James Joyce Biography

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James Joyce Biography

James Joyce, one of the greatest writers of the early twentieth century, suffered from an incurable case of wanderlust. During his 58 years, he lived in many different parts of the world. He began his life in Dublin, Ireland, which was the setting for most of his great fiction. In 1903, he moved to Paris, but returned to Dublin a year later when his mother was dying. While in Dublin he met his life partner, and later wife (they did not marry until 1931) Nora Barnacle, a maid at a Dublin hotel. Shortly thereafter, Joyce and Barnacle moved to Zurich and then on to Trieste where he stayed for a decade teaching English and writing.

Joyce’s life was a troubled one with bouts of alcoholism, depression, and poverty. Despite his problems, he managed to write many influential pieces of literature: Ulysses, Finnegans Wake, the short story collection Dubliners, and a somewhat autobiographical novel, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

Facts and Trivia

  • Joyce was attacked by a dog as a young boy and ended up with a severe canine phobia that persisted throughout his life. He was also afraid of thunderstorms because his grandmother once told him storms were a sign of God’s wrath.
  • Dedham, Massachusetts, hosts an annual James Joyce Ramble, which is a 10K race. Each mile is dedicated to one of Joyce’s works, and actors in period costumes line the streets and read from his novels as the runners pass.
  • The last story in Joyce’s Dubliners collection, “The Dead,” was made into a film in 1987 by director John Huston. It was Huston’s last major film before he died.
  • Joyce’s grandson, Stephen, has supposedly destroyed many letters written by his grandfather. He has also blocked what he considers “inappropriate” adaptations of his grandfather’s work.
  • The library at the University College in Dublin is named after James Joyce.
  • Upon his death, a Catholic priest offered a religious service for Joyce, a fallen-away Catholic. Nora declined the offer saying, "I couldn't do that to him."


(History of the World: The 20th Century)

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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...

(The entire section is 8,196 words.)