James Joyce Biography

Biography (History of the World: The 20th Century)

Article abstract: Author of the germinal modernist novels Ulysses and Finnegans Wake, Joyce played a central role in the development of the mystique of the inaccessible artist and helped define the course of twentieth century culture.

Early Life

Although James Joyce spent his adult life in self-imposed exile, his sensibility and writing remained firmly grounded in Ireland. Born in Dublin on February 2, 1882, Joyce experienced the tensions of Irish culture and politics in his immediate family. In addition to a politically motivated distrust of the clergy, John Joyce imparted to his son a gift for storytelling, a tendency toward excessive drinking, and an inability to cope with financial matters. In contrast, Mary Murray Joyce, a devout Catholic, provided the oldest of her ten children with a consistent source of love which was particularly important given the decline in family finances, accompanied by frequent changes of residence, which was to continue throughout his childhood. The tensions within the Joyce family came to a head over the Home Rule movement headed by Charles Stewart Parnell, who was denounced from the pulpit after being accused of adultery. What both father and son saw as Parnell’s betrayal—Joyce was to identify strongly with the fallen leader throughout his life—inspired Joyce’s first literary production, a political satire which his father distributed to friends.

With the exception of a brief stay at the Christian Brothers’ School, Joyce was educated almost entirely by Jesuits, at Clongowes Wood College, at Belvedere College, and finally at University College, Dublin, from which he was graduated in 1902. Although he was to reject most of the specific teachings of his Jesuit masters, Joyce maintained a respect for their intellectual rigor. The broad-based knowledge of classical authors—particularly the aesthetic speculations of Saint Thomas Aquinas—and the knowledge of languages which Joyce first developed under the Jesuits were to prove essential to his literary development. Of equal importance were the long walks which provided the encyclopedic knowledge of Dublin geography, and social life, so important to his later works.

During Joyce’s youth, Dublin had developed an important literary community revolving around slightly older writers including William Butler Yeats, George Moore, Æ (George Russell), and Lady Augusta Gregory. Joyce was both interested in and aloof from what came to be known as the Irish Literary Renaissance. Following the riots over Yeats’s play The Countess Cathleen (1892) in 1899, Joyce defended Yeats against the widespread Catholic and nationalist outrage. Nevertheless, distancing himself from what he saw as the mysticism and the provincialism of the Irish Literary Renaissance, Joyce chose to model his own early work after the example of Continental realism, particularly the work of Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen. Although the dialogue may be apocryphal, Joyce was widely believed to have told Yeats on their first meeting (which Joyce instigated) in 1904, “You are too old for me to help you.” A similar confidence emerges in a letter to Ibsen on his seventy-third birthday in which Joyce cryptically announces himself as a new presence waiting to assume the master’s role in European letters.

Beginning in 1902, Joyce began to prepare for the physical exile he found essential to a clear vision of his native country. Both photographs and descriptions dating from this period portray a tall, thin young man who maintains a somewhat distant and aloof expression. His first trip to Paris, where he was ostensibly studying medicine, was brought to an end by his mother’s terminal illness. Asserting his artistic independence from strictures of religion, nation, and family, Joyce refused to honor his mother’s deathbed wish that he take communion. Remaining in Dublin through most of 1904, Joyce began work on his first published literary works. The year was marked by several personal events of immense importance to his later development. A brief residence at the Martello Tower with his friend and rival Oliver St. John Gogarty—the Buck Mulligan of Joyce’s fiction—provided a substantial amount of the material incorporated into Ulysses (1922). The story of a single day, Ulysses takes place on June 16, 1904, the day of Joyce’s first extended meeting with Nora Barnacle, who was to be his lifelong companion and the mother of his two children. Armed with his chosen weapons of “silence, exile, and cunning” and accompanied by Nora (whom he was not to marry legally until 1931), Joyce set off in late 1904 to pursue his literary destiny on the Continent.

Life’s Work

Two interrelated themes—one aesthetic, the other financial—dominate Joyce’s career. Even as he wrote the books that established him as a major modernist author, he struggled with only intermittent success to provide a comfortable level of support for his family. With the exception of brief stays in Pola (1904-1905) and Rome (1906-1907), Joyce spent the first decade of his exile in Trieste, an Austrian port city with Italian traditions and sympathies. There, Joyce taught English both privately and in association with the Berlitz School. With the aid of his brother Stanislaus, Joyce managed to maintain his growing family; a son Giorgio was born in 1905, a daughter Lucia in 1907. Stanislaus also served as an underappreciated, but invaluable, intellectual foil and critic for the drafts of Dubliners (1914) and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916), which were written primarily in Trieste. An essentially realistic portrayal of Dublin life, Dubliners was accepted for publication in 1906, but objections from editors and printers delayed publication until 1914. Although there is little in any of Joyce’s books likely to outrage late twentieth century taste, Joyce expended a large amount of energy throughout his life resisting attempts to censor his writing. The skirmishes over Dubliners anticipate the landmark American trial of Ulysses, which John M. Woolsey cleared of charges of obscenity in 1933, thus supporting...

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James Joyce Biography (Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

Joyce was born into a Roman Catholic Irish family. His early life was molded by the conservative religious and moral values of late Victorian Ireland as well as the nationalistic passions that led to Ireland’s independence from Great Britain in 1922. He left the church in his late teens and exiled himself from Ireland after 1904, only rarely to return. Nevertheless, he never escaped his Irish and his Catholic background, which formed the core of the subject matter in his short stories and novels.

At his preparatory school Joyce was incensed when books were locked up and restricted. While at the university in Dublin he wrote an essay criticizing the parochialism of Irish-language drama that was censured by the university authorities because it mentioned an author listed in the church’s Index Librorum Prohibitorum. Refusing to accept the censure, Joyce published the essay privately.

While living in Italy with his future wife, Nora Barnacle, Joyce wrote a series of short stories about Dublin life. Dubliners was later recognized as a brilliant work, but Joyce faced considerable difficulties in getting it published. The first English printer he approached objected that his book contained immoral passages contravening English law. In contrast to Ireland after independence, England had no censorship board to pass judgement on literary works before their publication, but offending works could be prosecuted after publication....

(The entire section is 491 words.)

James Joyce Biography (Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

James Augustine Joyce was born on February 2, 1882, the eldest child of John Stanislaus and Mary Jane (May) Murray Joyce. The family was typical of the growing ranks of the Irish Catholic middle class of the day, socially confident, politically optimistic, though less than well established economically. During Joyce’s early years, however, the family remained in comfortable circumstances, and at the age of six, Joyce was enrolled in Clongowes Wood College, an elite Jesuit boarding school outside Dublin. After two years at Clongowes, Joyce’s education was interrupted because of a decline in family fortunes, the result in large part of John Joyce’s improvidence. In 1893, Joyce began to attend Belvedere College, another Jesuit...

(The entire section is 633 words.)

James Joyce Biography (Survey of Novels and Novellas)

James Augustine Aloysius Joyce was born in Dublin, Ireland, on February 2, 1882, the first of John Joyce and Mary Murray’s ten children. During the years of Joyce’s youth, his father wasted the family’s substantial resources based on properties in Cork City; Joyce, at the same time, grew to reject the pious Catholicism of his mother. Except for a brief period, his education was in the hands of the Jesuits: at Clongowes Wood College, the less exclusive Belvedere College, and finally at University College, Dublin, from which he graduated in 1902. Joyce quickly outgrew his mentors, however, so that the early influences of the Maynooth Catechism and Saints Ignatius Loyola and Thomas Aquinas yielded to his own eclectic reading in...

(The entire section is 622 words.)

James Joyce Biography (British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

The life of James Augustine Aloysius Joyce is interwoven so inextricably with his work that to consider one requires considering the other. The definitive biography of Joyce, by Richard Ellmann, is as strong in its interpretation of Joyce’s work as it is of his life. If Joyce, as Ellmann suggests in that biography, tended to see things through words, readers must try to see him through his words—the words of his work—as well as through the facts of his life.

Joyce was born into a family whose fortunes were in decline, the first child to live in the match of a man who drank too much and accumulated too many debts and a woman whose family the Joyces considered beneath them. John Joyce, James’s father, became the...

(The entire section is 1035 words.)

James Joyce Biography (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

James Augustine Joyce was born into a respectable, if improvident, middle-class family in Dublin, Ireland, on February 2, 1882. He was sent to Clongowes Wood College, a Jesuit boarding school, at the age of six; he entered Belvedere College in 1893. In 1898, he entered another Jesuit institution, University College, Dublin. Joyce was an excellent student but his rebellious nature was becoming clear after he published “The Day of the Rabblement,” an attack on the new Irish theater, and refused to sign a petition against the heresy in William Butler Yeats’s “Countess Cathleen.”

Joyce went to Paris in 1902 to study medicine but had to return to Ireland in 1903 when his mother was dying. During this period, he...

(The entire section is 677 words.)

James Joyce Biography (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

James Joyce is a preeminent modernist writer and a great innovator. He altered forever the way the world thinks of fiction. He added a subtlety to the well-plotted short story, provided a richness of detail and an intensity to the central consciousness of the novel of education, and turned the novel into an epic, a form capable of including diverse materials and styles. He did nothing less than transform modern literature.

(The entire section is 71 words.)

James Joyce Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

James Joyce became an international symbol of the modern experimental writer during his lifetime, and since then his reputation as one of the greatest novelists of the twentieth century has been securely established. Despite the great range and almost universal significance of his works, which became larger in scope and more experimental in language and structure as his career progressed, all are deeply rooted in the city of Dublin, where Joyce was born, in 1882, yet from which he exiled himself for his entire adult life.

Joyce was educated in Jesuit day schools and then University College, Dublin, where he studied modern languages. In 1904 he went to Europe with Nora Barnacle; they had two children and later married....

(The entire section is 1015 words.)

James Joyce Biography (Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

James Joyce was born on February 2,1882, the oldest of ten children born to John and Mary Joyce. Joyce's father, though a good-natured man,...

(The entire section is 471 words.)

James Joyce Biography (Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

James Joyce is one of the most celebrated and influential English-language writers of the twentieth century, and his later works of fiction,...

(The entire section is 1296 words.)

James Joyce Biography (Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

James Joyce is one of the most celebrated and influential English-language writers of the twentieth century, and his later works of fiction,...

(The entire section is 1396 words.)

James Joyce Biography (Novels for Students)

Joyce was born on February 2, 1882, in Dublin, Ireland. He was the eldest child of John Stanislaus and Mary Jane Murray Joyce, who had,...

(The entire section is 663 words.)

James Joyce Biography (Short Stories for Students)

James Augustine Aloysius Joyce was born the oldest of eight children on February 2,1882, in Rathgar, a suburb of Dublin, Ireland. His parents...

(The entire section is 506 words.)

James Joyce Biography (Short Stories for Students)

James Joyce, the eldest of ten children, some of whom did not survive childhood, was born on February 2, 1882. While still a child, Joyce’s...

(The entire section is 850 words.)

James Joyce Biography (Novels for Students)

James Augustine Joyce was born in Dublin, Ireland, on February 2, 1882, the eldest of ten children of John Stanislaus Joyce and Mary Jane...

(The entire section is 474 words.)