James Joyce Biography


Born in Rathgar, a township of Dublin, on February 2, 1882, James Joyce was the oldest of ten children, five others dying in infancy. Joyce's father, John Stanislaus Joyce (1849-1931), the prototype for Simon Dedalus of Ulysses, was a charming, bright, but improvident "Mr. Micawber" sort of man, one whose profligacy occasioned the ever-declining family fortunes and led the Joyce children to a life of impoverishment.

Despite his family's economic situation, however, Joyce did manage to secure a fine education. From 1888 to 1891, he attended the prestigious Clongowes Wood College in County Kildare, and, from 1893 to 1898, he attended the reputable Belvedere College, a Catholic day school in Dublin. Joyce graduated from University College, Dublin, in 1902.

One particularly important event that occurred during Joyce's schooldays was the death of Charles Stewart Parnell in October, 1891. The young Joyce, reinforced in his political and nationalistic convictions by his father, felt that the great nationalist leader, who fell from grace because of his affair with Kitty O'Shea, had been "betrayed" by his followers — that is, Parnell had been forced to resign from his position as head of Ireland's nationalist party because of the divorce trial of Captain and Kitty O'Shea. To commemorate the occasion of Parnell's death, the 9-year-old Joyce wrote a poem "Et Tu, Healy," which denounced the worst of the turncoats, and one reason that Stephen Dedalus in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man cites for leaving Ireland is his fear that the country will always destroy its prophets.

At University College, Dublin, Joyce openly espoused a number of unpopular causes. He insisted upon the worth of Henrik Ibsen, considered anathema by conservative Dublin Catholics, and, at the age of 18, he published an article on "Ibsen's New Drama" in the Fortnightly Review. In 1900, he delivered a paper, "Drama and Life," before the Literary and Historical Society of the College, which advocated modern dramatists, as opposed to Shakespeare and the Greeks. Joyce's article "The Day of the Rabblement" (1901) denounced the beginning Irish theater movement, which Joyce believed was too insular, too cut off from European culture. Lady Gregory, William Butler Yeats, and other leaders of the Irish Literary Theatre, it seemed to Joyce, were being too provincial in their stress upon peasant and folk drama.

After he left the University in 1902, Joyce went to Paris to study medicine and to write; after a brief time, he returned to Ireland, then left for Paris again in 1903 with the intention of devoting himself to full-time literary endeavors; he returned to Dublin when his father's telegram of April 10, 1903, announced his mother's imminent death (she died of cancer on August 13, 1903). Joyce's months of drifting in Dublin ended with the first days of 1904, when he seriously returned to his writing, and in June of that year, Joyce met Nora Barnacle, a 20-year-old Galway woman, with whom he was to spend the rest of his life. The famous "Bloomsday" in Ulysses, June 16, is probably the day on which Joyce discovered that he was in love with Nora. In October, 1904, they left for Zurich, where Joyce had been promised a position teaching at the Berlitz School.

The period from October, 1904 (when Joyce arrived in Zurich to find that the administrators of the Berlitz School had never heard of his application), through the end of June, 1915 (when Joyce, because of World War 1, decided to leave Trieste and to return to Zurich to take up residence), was a mixed one for Joyce. On the debit side one can place several items: Joyce's dislike of Pola, Rome, and Trieste, the last being his chief habitat during the years 1904-15; several years of delay in the publication of Dubliners, which was finally printed in 1914; a lie told to Joyce by his friend Vincent Cosgrave (in 1909, on a return visit to Ireland) concerning Nora's having been unfaithful during Joyce's courtship in 1904; and the failure, in 1909 in Dublin, of Joyce's venture into the cinema business, the Cinematograph Volta. Balanced against these disappointments, however, were the birth of his son, Giorgio, in 1905, and the birth of his daughter, Lucia Anna, in 1907; and the support of Yeats, Pound, and Dora Marsden, who agreed to publish A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man in serial form in her review, The Egoist, between February 2, 1914, and September 1, 1915.

Joyce's financial situation improved considerably in Zurich. Through contacts, he tutored several language students, and, with the help of Pound and Yeats, he secured a grant from the Royal Literary Fund. Of greater importance, however, were two patronesses — Harriet Shaw Weaver, whose support of Joyce began in February, 1917, and Edith Rockefeller McCormick, an American living in Zurich, whose large stipend ran from March, 1918, through September, 1919. Miss Weaver, in addition, formed the Egoist Press to publish an English edition of A Portrait, in 1917, after B. W. Huebsch in New York had issued the novel in 1916. (Installments of Ulysses appeared in the Little Review in New York from March 1918 until September — December, 1920; and Joyce's play, Exiles, was published in 1918.)

With the improvement of his lifestyle, Joyce lost much of his bitterness towards the Ireland which he had decided never to visit again after 1912. In addition, in Zurich, he stepped up his "attack" upon the English language, his restructuring of traditional means of expression. Two clouds, however, did partially mar the relatively secure Zurich days: at the end of 1918 and the start of 1919, he began a tepid affair with a Swiss woman named Martha Fleischmann (she was Joyce's prototype for Martha Clifford in Ulysses), which ended sadly; and in August, 1917, Joyce began undergoing the first of eleven eye operations that were to continue for fifteen years. He left Zurich for Trieste in October, 1919, and then, at Pound's urging, he decided in the late spring of 1920 to move to Paris, the city in which he was to spend the next 19 years.

Joyce was relatively happy during his first years in the cosmopolitan city. Pound had arranged to have Joyce's books translated into French, and he felt that Paris was the best place to launch Ulysses. One friend lent Joyce a free flat; others, clothing and furniture. The well-known critic Valery Larbaud gave a public lecture on Ulysses two months before its publication, and the novel was finally published on Joyce's 40th birthday, February 2, 1922, by Sylvia Beach's Shakespeare and Company.

On March 10, 1923, Joyce began Finnegans Wake, the book that was to appear in parts in several magazines (most prominently in Eugene and Maria Jolas's transition from April, 1927, to April-May, 1938) until its publication as a whole on May 4, 1939. This enigmatic book cost Joyce most of his old literary associates, and its seemingly meaningless language alienated many of his friends. Pound complained that he could not understand what Joyce was doing in his new work; as a result, Pound's relationship with Joyce was strained after the late 1920s. Joyce's brother Stanislaus judged the book to be drivel. Joyce himself was so discouraged with the reception of his new work that in 1929 he proposed to the Irish writer James Stephens that he finish the book for him. The timing of the publication of Finnegans Wake as a whole, just months short of the declaration of World War II, was the final blow to a broken Joyce, who, shortly after, was once again forced to move because of international hostilities. In addition to all of his other disappointments, Joyce spent the 1930s in a desperate attempt to cure the schizophrenia of his daughter, Lucia. The task was a hopeless one, but Joyce persisted in trying to effect a restoration.

Joyce died on January 13, 1941, as the result of an undiagnosed duodenal ulcer. He is buried in the Fluntern Cemetery, which rises above Zurich.