Joyce's life and work

Joyce was born into a supportive, artistic family in Ireland in 1882. His suspicions about the hypocrisies of Catholicism led him at age 16 to throw off all external codes and accept his inner being as his sole moral compass. Over the next four years at University College he became increasingly outspoken and contemptuous of the normal course of Irish life, imagining himself a sort of literary messiah destined to lead the Irish people in throwing off the Catholic oppressor. The heroes he discovered during this period-- Henrik Ibsen, William Blake, Dante, Aristotle, and Thomas Aquinas-- would remain so for the rest of his life.

 During 1904 and 1905 Joyce wrote 1000 pages of an autobiographical novel, Stephen Hero. The last half of this has survived and shows a greater self-honesty than any earlier novel, and an incredible richness of careful analytic thought. But at the end of 1904 Joyce had exiled himself from Ireland to Italy, accompanied by his extraordinarily adventurous lover, Nora Barnacle. Within three years they had added two children to support, on Joyce's meager earnings as an English tutor.

 Yet Joyce during this time was also seriously investigating modern literature for the first time, and growing dissatisfied with Stephen Hero, determining in 1906 to rewrite it in a completely different series of styles, with the 'concertina title' A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. (In both the works, Joyce's nom de clef is 'Stephen Dedalus'.)

 Joyce's literary evolution between 1904 and 1907 can also be seen in a series of short stories he wrote during this period, Dubliners. From the very first, Joyce sought to use language with a 'scrupulous meanness' that captures the flavor of reality by capturing the styles of the characters he's describing, avoiding flowery rhetoric on the grounds it detracted from the events' depiction by drawing attention to the talents of the writer.

 Joyce considered that every word or image inherently carried a symbolic weight which it was the author's duty to deploy conscientiously. Color-words were doled out as if he were painting a delicately balanced landscape, and he began to treat images (like 'bird' or 'boots') as leitmotifs that could be re-introduced at intervals throughout a work, seen thru many different eyes, creating a deep and multi-faceted reflection of the breadth of human consciousness, with a subtlety that only becomes apparent after many, many careful re-readings.

 Joyce's Ulysses, written between 1914 and 1922, was an immediate success-de-scandal, and is now widely acknowledged as the greatest novel ever written. It describes a single day in the life of Leopold Bloom, a kind but ineffectual man whose wife, that day (June 16, 1904), is taking her first lover. The work is presented in eighteen chapters that cleverly parallel 18 episodes of Homer's Odyssey, with Bloom as Odysseus and Stephen Dedalus as his 'son' Telemachus. Each chapter has a new style, that generally become more and more difficult and obscure. Joyce boasted that he built enough riddles into Ulysses to keep scholars arguing for centuries about his meaning, so readers must to a great extent take the role of literary detectives, spotting clues and piecing together the grand patterns behind the whole.

 Joyce's last work, Finnegans Wake, stands as the most baffling unsolved riddle in the history of literature. Joyce claimed it was "a history of the world" told in a specially invented "night language" of multilingual puns and arcane allusions. As he began publishing the earliest fragments during the 1920s, his supporters abandoned him in droves, appalled that he would squander his gifts on such a private joke. Yet he persisted for 16 years, creating a 600-page enigma that still lacks any coherent key.

James Joyce timeline

Feb 2 1882 Born in Dublin, oldest of 13 surviving children
1888-91 Jesuit boarding school, family fortunes begin decline
1893-98 Belvedere College, Jesuit day school, prefect of Sodality 
1897? School retreat that inspires hellfire sermon in PoA
1898 Awakening sexuality forces rejection of moral hypocrisies
1898-1902 University College, idolizes Ibsen, formulates esthetics
Dec 1902- Apr 1903 Paris: med school dropout, journalism, adventures
Aug 13 1903 Mother's death precipitates emotional crisis
June 16 1904 First date with Nora Barnacle (becomes Ulysses' Bloomsday)
Sept 9-15 1904 Living with Gogarty in Tower (cf. opening of Ulysses)
Oct 8 1904 Joyce and Nora 'elope' to Pola, Austria; Joyce teaches English 1905 Move to Trieste; Giorgio born July 27; Dubliners ms to publishers Aug 1906-Jan 1907 Bank clerk in Rome; conceives Ulysses as short story 1907 Lucia born July 26; Chamber Music published (poems); The Dead written 1908? 1000-page autobio "Stephen Hero" abandoned, recasting as PoA begun Aug 1909 Visit to Dublin, Cosgrave claims liaison w/Nora in 1904 Dec 20 1909 Joyce&partners open first Dublin cinema "Volta", quickly fails July-Sept 1912 Joyce's last visit to Ireland

 1914 E Pound fixes serial publ of PoA; Dub's publ'ed; Exiles written; U begun 1916 PoA published to high critical acclaim and notoriety 1917 Eye troubles, Harriet Weaver begins lifelong patronage of Joyce family 1918 Serial pub/censorship of U begun; farcical lawsuit over actor's pants 1920 Move to Paris, spendthift lifestyle maintains financial crisis Feb 2 1922 Publication of Ulysses, international celebrity, eye troubles

 Oct 1922 Began FW ("a history of the world") via Scribbledehobble notebook 1923-29 Productive phase of FW composition; scorned by JJ's admirers 1927 Serial publ of FW begun in "transition" Nov 1929 Serial pub halted; Joyce enlists Jas Stephens to finish FW, if nec. 1929-32 Daughter Lucia's encroaching madness strains Joyce to near-silence 1931 JJ marries NB July 4; Stuart Gilbert publishes U 'schema' in "JJ's U" 1932 Birth of grandson 6 weeks after death of father, 2 weeks after 50th bday 1934 US pub of Ulysses by Random House after winning obscenity trial 1939 FW published May 9 after ten years of low productivity; Joyces flee Paris Jan 13 1941 Heartbroken at FW's poor reception, JJ dies in Zurich at age 58

 1944 Campbell and Robinson's "Skeleton Key to FW" 1951 Death of Nora Barnacle Joyce 1957 M.J.C. Hodgart publishes early FW vignettes in James Joyce Review 1959 Richard Ellmann's monumental bio "James Joyce" 1961 First publication of FW notebook "Scribbledehobble" by T. Connolly 1963 David Hayman's "First Draft Version of FW" 1972 First publication of Ulysses notesheets by Philip Herring 1978 Facsimiles of notebooks and drafts published by Garland as "JJ Archive" 1980 Roland McHugh's "Annotations to FW" 1982 Joyce centennial celebrations in Dublin; death of Lucia Dec 12 1984 Hans Walter Gabler's critical edition of U 1991 FWAKE-L email list accumulates 100kb annotations to a single FW paragraph 1992 Danis Rose announces 'discovery' of "Finn's Hotel", squelched by grandson 1997 Rose's over-corrected edition of Ulysses 1999? John Kidd's re-corrected edition of U

Where shall I begin reading Joyce?

Why read Joyce? First, I'd say, for his stylistic innovations. The last story of Dubliners ("The Dead"), the first pages (especially) of Portrait, Ulysses- chapters 1, 3, 4, 7, and 11-18, and FW on any page-- if you know nothing else of Joyce you should at least browse these-- there's nothing to match them in world literature. Realize that FW has no fixed plot, and is written largely in multilingual puns, with allusions to every aspect of history and literature... but it can still be fun to read, even just for the sounds of the sentences. For maximal 'forward plot-momentum' try pages 35 and 36 first.

 Second, read Joyce for his analysis of the Human Drama, as filtered (usually) thru the perspective of his own autobiography, in the person of a transparent alter-ego named Stephen Dedalus. I'd suggest the following sequence: Portrait (which follows SD's first 20 years), Ulysses (along with a couple of auxilliary texts), Ellmann's massive biography, Stephen Hero (a revealing long fragment of the lost early draft of Portrait), and Dubliners (early short stories).

 Perhaps the most important thing in choosing a first critical guide to Ulysses is that its page-number-references match the edition of the text you're using! (Gabler's 'corrected' text is equally as error-ridden as the 1961 Random House, etc.) "The [New] Bloomsday Book" by Blamires seems to be the most popular companion for one's first reading of Ulysses, paraphrasing the text page-by- page. Gilbert's "JJ's Ulysses" was the first attempt at an overview (done with JJ's assistance) and there are many others (eg, Tindall's Reader's Guide, Sultan's Argument of U). Gifford (with Seidman) and Thornton have produced books of annotations to Ulysses that are very useful-- Gifford's 2nd edition is the most complete, but includes many doubtful interpretations.

 Third, though, one can read Joyce critically, joining in the decades-old academic game of searching out new meanings. Here, Finnegans Wake and Joyce's notebooks and letters, along with the reminiscences of his friends, become vastly important, as clues to his ways of thinking and his plans in composing (especially) Portrait, Ulysses, and FW.

 At this level, one is finally forced to come to terms with the vast, vast, exponentially-growing body of research by our critical predecessors-- so vast as to be quite off-putting for newcomers! Where's the fun, after all, if the best riddles have already been solved? Fortunately, as vast as the accumulated research is, it's hardly scratched the surface of Joyce's accomplishments....

 When reading Joyce criticism, too, take everything with a grain of salt-- Joyce is much deeper, in every work, than anyone can claim to have thoroughly plumbed. And he was intentionally laying traps for the unwary reader-- every great Joycean has surely been publicly caught out by several of these! And, surely, thousands of fascinating riddles remain to be explored.

 Be aware that no Joycean details are ever introduced arbitrarily-- everything has been selected to contribute to the overall esthetic effect-- the decor ideal -- and one must continually strive to see each work as a carefully laid- out whole. This requires of each reader a disciplined effort, connecting the many tiny offhand hints to deduce important truths that are never plainly stated.

A few critical works on Ulysses I've found especially helpful:
Raleigh, "The Chronicle of Leopold and Molly Bloom". Reconstructs their 
  biographies from thousands of scattered hints in the text.
Paul van Caspel, "Bloomers on the Liffey". Examines some of the many traps 
  Joyce laid.
Ellmann, "Ulysses on the Liffey". Searching for a grand philosophic pattern 
  in Ulysses
Hugh Kenner, various titles.
And on FW: Joseph Campbell (yep, the myths-guy) and HM Robinson, "Skeleton Key to FW". A flaky but enthusiastic first try at a paraphrase. Rose and O'Hanlon, "Understanding FW". The second try, much more reliable but hard to find. Roland McHugh "Annotations to FW". Indispensible but still a tiny drop in the bucket. McHugh, "The FW Experience". Short and original, great for beginners. Hayman, "First-Draft Version of FW". Book One especially reads much more smoothly in its first draft. The FWAKE-L mailinglist, "FWAKE Digest for Chapter 4, paragraph 1". FTP-able, gives a sense of how much can be dug out for a single paragraph (100+ pages!). Atherton's "Books at the Wake" and Glasheen's "Census" are two of many very useful reference-works.

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