Study Guide

Dubliners

by James Joyce

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What is a literary classic and why are these classic works important to the world?

A literary classic is a work of the highest excellence that has something important to say about life and/or the human condition and says it with great artistry. A classic, through its enduring presence, has withstood the test of time and is not bound by time, place, or customs. It speaks to us today as forcefully as it spoke to people one hundred or more years ago, and as forcefully as it will speak to people of future generations. For this reason, a classic is said to have universality.

James Augustine Aloysius Joyce was born in Dublin, on February 2, 1882, into a Roman Catholic household. Joyce's father had failed at various types of employment, and he struggled to keep up the façade that the family still belonged to the comfortable middle-class. At sixteen, Joyce entered University College in Dublin, where he soon began to write a few lyric poems. During these early years, Joyce developed an anti-religious sentiment, especially toward the conservatism of the Church; this continued throughout his life. He graduated in 1902 and went to Paris for a year, returning in time to comfort his mother shortly before she died. Two years later, he went abroad again, this time with the woman he would eventually marry, Nora Barnacle, the inspiration and model for Molly Bloom, the heroine of Joyce's most important book, Ulysse (1922).

A collection of Joyce's early poems, Chamber Music, appeared in 1907, which showed his love for of musical forms, and this appreciation is evident throughout many of his works. Joyce used words similarly to how composers use sounds—to fill the page with accents, colors, noises, and textures. In addition, while still in college, he communicated with Henrik Ibsen, the playwright; Isben's friendship and encouragement proved to Joyce that his own talents and particular style could be expressed through literature and was a milestone in his life.

The next few years were busy ones for Joyce, with Dubliners being published in 1914, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man in 1916, and Ulysse in 1922. While he made only infrequent trips back to Ireland, Dublin was the primary focus of his stories and novels.

His stream-of-consciousness style and sometimes-sexual subject matter resulted in a notorious and public obscenity trial over Ulysse; Joyce, however, was formally cleared of all charges, and the book was at last allowed to be sold legally. His eyesight, which had always been weak, began to fail in his later years; therefore, writing and editing his final major work, Finnegan's Wake, proved to be an extremely difficult task.

After the Nazis invaded France in 1940, Joyce and Nora fled to Switzerland, where Joyce died the next year.