James Joyce
Public DomainJames Joyce - Credit: Bernice Abbott

James Joyce was an Irish poet and novelist. He is considered to be one of the greatest and most influential writers of the 20th century, due to his experimental use of language in such books as Ulysses (1922) and Finnegans Wake (1939).

Born on 2 February 1882 in Dublin, Ireland, Joyce was the oldest of ten children. His father was John Stanislaus Joyce, a gentleman who had tried many professions, including tax collecting, politics and a failed distillery business. His mother was Mary Jane Murray. Ten years younger than her husband, she was a gifted pianist whose life was controlled by the Roman Catholic Church.

Joyce was educated by Jesuits and graduated from University College in 1902. Unhappy with what he perceived to be the narrowness of Irish culture, and especially the stifling role of the Church, he left for Paris where he briefly studied medicine.

He returned to Dublin for a short period in 1903, when his mother became terminally ill. After her death he left Ireland definitively with Nora Barnacle, who became his lifelong companion. They settled in Trieste, where Joyce taught English and met Italo Svevo, who became his close friend and encouraged him in his work. Joyce and Nora had a son in 1905 and a daughter in 1908. They eventually married in 1931.

In 1905 Joyce completed his first work, a collection of fifteen stories entitled Dubliners, but it took several trips to England and almost ten years to get the controversial book published. The poet Ezra Pound reviewed the work enthusiastically and helped Joyce publish his next work, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916), which established his literary reputation.

With the outbreak of the First World War, Joyce moved to neutral Switzerland, where he wrote a new novel, Ulysses. The book was first published in serial form in a New York literary periodical, but publication was suspended when the publisher was prosecuted for printing obscene material. In 1922 Ulysses was published in book form in Paris, where Joyce had settled, but it continued to be banned in English-speaking countries. The first English edition didn't appear until 1936.

          

Joyce's personal life was not happy. He suffered from glaucoma, an eye condition that forced him to undergo many operations and left him almost blind in the last years of his life. Moreover, the family's finances were not good, and for many years the Joyces lived on money donated by patrons.

Joyce's last novel, Finnegans Wake, appeared in 1939. Considered to be too contorted and obscure, the novel had negative reviews and was not well received by the wider reading public. At the outbreak of the Second World War the family returned to Switzerland, where Joyce died in January 1941 at the age of fifty-eight.

Joyce reading from Finnegans Wake:    

The James Joyce Centre

The James Joyce Society (New York)

Zurich James Joyce Foundation