Other Literary Forms
James Joyce’s name is synonymous with twentieth century fiction, to a revolution in which he devoted himself with remarkable single-mindedness. The results are to be found in three extremely influential works of fiction—A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1914-1915, serial; 1916, book), Ulysses (1922), and Finnegans Wake (1939). Though his work in other genres is of much less significance, Joyce also wrote two books of poetry, as well as one play. His youthful critical essays, crucial to an understanding of his artistic origins, were collected posthumously and edited by Richard Ellmann and Ellsworth Mason as The Critical Writings of James Joyce (1959). The raw material for A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, edited by Theodore Spencer, was also published posthumously as Stephen Hero (1944).
James Joyce is acknowledged by many as the twentieth century’s greatest prose artist and is also, arguably, that century’s most famous author. Despite his small output and the increasing difficulty of his works, Joyce’s name stands as a monument to commitment and artistic integrity. Since the end of World War II, there has hardly been a novelist in the West who has not felt Joyce’s influence. Continuing interest in his complex mind and work is sustained by a vast array of academic commentators.
The reasons for Joyce’s eminence are not hard to find. Each of his works, beginning with the short stories of Dubliners, is notable for its startling originality of language and conception. His fiction, moreover, placed his native city, Dublin, indelibly on the map of the world’s culture. His life, a continual struggle against ill health, exile, and the almost total neglect of publishers, has come to be perceived as an eloquent expression of self-determination in an age of totalitarian conformity.
Other literary forms
James Joyce commenced his literary career as a poet, essayist, and dramatist, under the influences of William Butler Yeats and Henrik Ibsen, respectively. His Collected Poems (1936) contains Chamber Music (1907), thirty-six lyrics written before 1904, and Pomes Penyeach (1927), eleven poems written after he had made his commitment to prose fiction. His first published essay, “Ibsen’s New Drama” (1900), announced his admiration for the Norwegian dramatist; the same attitude is implied in his only original surviving play, Exiles (pb. 1918).
Miscellaneous literary essays, program and lecture notes, reviews, journalism, and two broadsides are collected in The Critical Writings of James Joyce (1959). Joyce’s correspondence is contained in Letters of James Joyce (1957-1966), with some additions in Selected Letters of James Joyce (1975).
Through the compilation of fifteen short stories in Dubliners (1914), written between 1904 and 1907, Joyce discerned his métier. This apparently random, realistic series was the first announcement of its author’s singular genius. While the volume retains a “scrupulously mean” accuracy in regard to naturalistic detail, it also incorporates a multiplicity of complex symbolic patterns. An ephemeral story, “Giacomo Joyce” (1918), was written as he completed A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and began Ulysses in 1914. The collaboration of several editors has produced in facsimile almost the entire Joyce “workshop”—notes, drafts, manuscripts, typescripts, and proofs—in sixty-four volumes (The James Joyce Archives, 1977-1979), a project of unprecedented magnitude for any twentieth century author.
From the beginning of his literary career, James Joyce was the most distinctive figure in the renaissance that occurred in Irish cultural life after the death of Charles Stewart Parnell. Despite his early quarrels with Yeats, John Millington Synge, and other leaders of the Irish Literary Revival, and his subsequent permanent exile, he is clearly, with Yeats, its presiding genius. From the first, he set himself to liberate Ireland, not by returning to Celtic myths or the Gaelic language and folklore , but by Europeanizing its...
(The entire section is 2,325 words.)