James Augustine Aloysius Joyce was born on February 2, 1882, in Rathgar, a fairly prosperous southern suburb of Dublin. His father, John Stanislaus Joyce, was from Cork, where the Joyce family had been merchants for some generations, and where they had married into the O'Connell family, who claimed a connection with the famous Daniel O'Connell, "the Liberator." The earliest Joyces were Norman, but later established themselves in the West of Ireland near Galway, where a large area is known as "the Joyce Country." John Joyce insisted upon the family's noble descent, and indeed a Joyce coat of arms is registered, with the motto, "Mors aut honorabilis vita" ("An honorable life or death"). Colbert Kearney, who has researched the Cork background, reports that family myth asserted the gentlemanly Joyces of Cork, such as John Joyce's father James Augustine, were dragged down by the shopkeeping O'Connells.
Like all Irish Catholics, the Joyces inherited a tradition of legal and cultural repression. Having suffered invasions by Vikings and by Normans in medieval times, Ireland was more programmatically conquered by the British, beginning in
the Elizabethan period; successive waves of invasion and settlement established an "Anglo-Irish" aristocracy who controlled much of the land, while during the eighteenth century the "penal laws" effectively barred Catholics from social
advancement. Even the Irish language spoken by Joyce's ancestors was prohibited. A series of reforms culminating in the Emancipation Act of 1829 allowed the growth of a Catholic middle class, but the hopes of the Catholic peasantry--and
many of the middle class as well--remained firmly tied to the establishment of an independent Irish nation..
When John Joyce moved from Cork to Dublin in his mid-twenties he was a man of some means, including property in Cork; by the age of forty he had lost his final job as tax collector and was never again regularly employed. He was a man of considerable charm, a fine tenor and storyteller, but also an improvident spendthrift and drinker. A friend, Constantine Curran, described him as "a man of unparalleled vituperative power, a virtuoso in speech with unique control of the vernacular." In many ways a disastrous father, he nevertheless fathered twelve children, of whom eight survived to adulthood. Whatever strain this may have put on his resources, the strain of a pregnancy virtually every year following her marriage was far worse on May Joyce, who died at forty-four. James Joyce was the eldest surviving child; two of his siblings died of typhoid, a disease encouraged by the family's poverty.
But in 1888, when James Joyce was sent to board and study at Clongowes Wood College, most of these Embarrassments and tragedies lay in the future. Clongowes, run by the influential Jesuit order, was perhaps the best preparatory school in Ireland (sons of the wealthier Anglo-Irish families were often sent to still better schools in England). Despite the repressive picture he paints of the school in Portrait, Joyce later spoke warmly of his experience there; unlike Stephen, whom we only see unjustly punished, Joyce received punishment that he admitted he deserved on several occasions, including once for bad language. Joyce was a good student at Clongowes despite his youth, and in some ways never abandoned the habits of thought with which the Jesuits inculcated him. But public events in Ireland were equally important to him, at least as they reached him through the talk of his parents and their friends.
PARNELL AND IRISH NATONALISM
The two-and-a-half years Joyce attended Clongowes happened to coincide with the climax of the Parnell affair, which seized the young boy's imagination. Charles Stewart Parnell, a Protestant landholder entered the British Parliament as an
Irish representative in 1875. Along with the former "Fenian", or Irish revolutionary, Michael Davitt, he founded the predominantly Catholic Land League to redistribute farm land. Gradually he became head of a political group that
included nationalists of all sorts from moderates to militant revolutionaries.
By 1879 he had become leader of the Home Rule movement, which insisted that the Irish be allowed a measure of self-government. He managed to unite the Irish vote in the House of Commons, and by threatening various tactics of
parliamentary obstruction, he was able to bargain for the Prime Minister Gladstone's support for Home Rule. His cause suffered a setback in 1882, when a radical group called the Invincibles assassinated two British officials in Phoenix Park, northwest of Dublin. Although Parnell publicly condemned the assassination, in 1887 the London Times ran a series of articles based on information supplied by a former nationalist named Piggott that accused Parnell of supporting the Invincibles. A trial showed the letters supposedly written by Parnell were forgeries, but the violent feelings of Parnell's conservative opposition were made clear. Then in 1890 Parnell was accused of adultery in a divorce suit brought by Captain O'Shea, a former member of the Home Rule party, against his wife Katharine.
The trial made headlines. Parnell's ten-year liaison with Mrs. O'Shea,
to which the Captain had given tacit assent, was the stuff of scandal,
and the intimate details that emerged were embarrassing for all concerned.
For instance, Katharine and Parnell addressed one another as "King" and
"Queen" in private.
One of Parnell's code names in communicating with his lover, "Mr. Fox," became widely known, while Mrs. O'Shea was universally referred to as "Kitty," which was coincidentally a slang term for a prostitute. Parnell was a man of enormous
pride and rather cold, aristocratic demeanor. He refused to defend against the charge and wished only to marry Mrs. O'Shea, who for ten years had remained legally married to her husband only in hopes of a legacy. Gladstone decided that his Liberal party in its fight for Home Rule could not afford to be associated with a man of questionable moral character, and the Irish party, at the urging of Davitt and Tim Healy, removed Parnell from leadership. Parnell refused to
capitulate, and the party spilt; he was denounced by Catholic churchmen, whose leaders hoped to regain influence over the Nationalist movement. Among his attackers was Archbishop William Walsh, whom Simon Dedalus characterizes as
"Billy the Lip."
As his power diminished, Parnell was accused of outrageous things, such as embezzling the Land League's "Paris funds" to subsidize his love life. Following his marriage to Kitty he continued to take his campaign to the people, in weakening health, and in 1891 died. As many as 150,000 people accompanied his sealed coffin to Glasnevin cemetery, led by the radical Fenians who had supported him at the end. In a revulsion of popular feeling, Parnell gained a kind of mythic status even among many of those who had attacked him, and as it became clear that Nationalism was in disarray he became the "dead king" who alone could have led Ireland to independence. Following his death the nine-year-old Joyce wrote a bitter broadside poem against Parnell's betrayers entitled "Et tu Healy," which John Joyce had printed. Joyce came to see Parnell as a martyr, betrayed by his own people, in the mold of earlier nationalist heroes who had led aborted insurrections, such as Wolfe Tone and Robert Emmet. Like Joyce, Stephen Dedalus views himself as their potential successor, an Artist-Hero who may save his country not only from its enemies but from itself.
When he came to write A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Joyce relied heavily on autobiography: in outline and in many details, the novel follows his own life from birth up to the age of twenty. His family and acquaintances often appear recognizably, with only a change of name, while schools, streets, businesses, hotels, and public figures generally appear under their real names--an unusual practice at the time that Joyce also followed in his book of short stories, Dubliners, and that caused him endless trouble when he tried to publish the book. But as Richard Ellmann clearly established, there are important differences between James Joyce and Stephen Dedalus. The timing of Stephen's attendance at Clongowes is altered so that Parnell's death occurs earlier. Although Joyce briefly attended a Christian Brothers' school after Clongowes, Stephen does not. Stephen avoids sports of all sorts, whereas Joyce was quite proud of winning a schoolboy race. Joyce in youth was called "Sunny Jim" by his family because of his cheerful disposition, while Stephen is more or less withdrawn and sullen. Joyce's relationship with his father appeared friendly to others, while Stephen's is increasingly bitter and tense. At parties Stephen is aloof, while Joyce, who could indeed be distant in manner, was also
known for his songs (he had a voice of professional quality), his impersonations, and his occasional manic, spidery dances.
His family fortunes continued to worsen, in part because Joyce's father had been a paid canvasser for Parnell. Joyce began attending the Jesuit Belvedere College in Dublin in 1893. The following year, in a nation-wide examination, he won one of the top prizes, or "exhibitions," worth twenty pounds. That year or the next, he began to patronize local prostitutes. Meanwhile, he was chosen Prefect of the Sodality of the Blessed Virgin Mary at school, an honor meant to recognize both his academic achievements and his moral character, and one that might well indicate that the boy was thought to have a vocation for the priesthood. A retreat sermon delivered by a priest from Clongowes in 1896 had a strong effect on Joyce, who was struggling with sexual guilt and self-hatred at the time, but during the following several years his precocious reading of Byron and "dangerous" modern authors like Meredith, Hardy, Ibsen, and his countryman Yeats had an even more powerful cumulative effect. From these he began to acquire a critical attitude toward social institutions of bourgeois Ireland, including the Church itself, and from Yeats in particular he learned to see the world of art as an autonomous sphere removed from the pragmatic world of everyday experience, and to see the figure of the artist as part prophet, part priest, the potential savior of his race. By the time he entered the Royal University in Dublin, also known as "University College," he was permanently disaffected from Catholicism, much to the distress of his Mother.
Joyce's University experience was crucial in forming his character and
public image. University College had been founded by the famous convert
John Henry Newman in 1854 to offer a liberal Catholic education alternative
predominantly secular Trinity College, where the sons of the Protestant Ascendancy were educated. But Newman had failed to win independence from the bishops in making his appointments, and by 1898, when Joyce entered, the school,
controlled by the Jesuits, offered a conservative and intellectually undemanding curriculum. Modern thought and modern art were condemned or ignored. When Joyce began to enthuse about the playwright Ibsen, who had been praised by the London intelligentsia for years, he gained a great deal of local notoriety as a dangerously radical thinker.
But if the instructors were relatively backward, the student body at University College were sensitive to the political and social turmoil of the time. Parnell's cause had not died with him, but after the apparent failure of parliamentary activism, more radical Nationalists came to the fore. A local branch of the Gaelic League, which encouraged the study of the Irish language and the playing of native Irish sports, was established by Joyce's friend George Clancy (Davin in Portrait). Somewhat less publicly, it organized military training for Nationalists who hoped for a popular insurrection (such as the one that indeed occurred in 1916); Davin in A Portrait is said to be practicing military drill. But from Joyce's perspective, the most significant movement of the time was probably what later became known as the Irish Literary Renaissance.
THE IRISH LITERARY RENAISSANCE
This movement, which was responsible for a period of immense literary productivity, lasted from roughly 1890 into the 1920's. It was spearheaded by William Butler Yeats, perhaps the greatest poet writing in English. Yeats, seventeen years Joyce's senior, formed the notion of a national literature that would take its inspiration from Irish myth and folktale. Under the influence of his friend George Russell (who wrote under the mystic name "AE") he imbued his work with a strong element of spiritualism, while under the influence of the Fenian John O'Leary and of Maud Gonne, the woman he loved, he also linked it to nationalist aspirations. The political and aesthetic dimensions to his work did not always coexist easily, however. In 1899 Yeats helped found the Irish Literary Theatre, and presented there his play Countess Cathleen. Although his later play Kathleen Ni Houlihan was enormously successful with Nationalists, Countess Cathleen, relying on an aristocratic figure who sells her soul to the devil in exchange for food for her starving people, caused riots protesting "a libel on Irish womanhood." In Portrait Stephen is portrayed as one of the few students at University College who refuse to sign a petition against the play, and in so doing he appears to choose art over politics. Later, he recites a
verse from the play. These details are in fact autobiographical. Joyce knew many of Yeats's poems by heart, and may have been drawn to specialize in prose because he feared he could not compete as a poet.
By the time he left University College Joyce had met a number of figures
in the Revival, including Yeats, George Russell, and Yeats's patron and
collaborator Lady Augusta Gregory. On the strength of a few essays and
verses he had begun to make a name for himself. But despite his enthusiasm
for Yeats's work, Joyce from the beginning had serious reservations about
the direction of Yeats's movement. For one thing, all the major figures
were of the Protestant landholding class,
and Yeats especially had an almost feudal respect for the "great families" like Lady Gregory's who were his models of aristocracy. The remainder of Yeats's sympathy lay with the unlettered peasantry, whom he saw as a repository of folk
wisdom and mystic insight. Joyce, a member of the urban poor with a very different notion of aristocracy, had little patience with this aspect of the Revival. And while he disliked British imperialism as strongly as Yeats's generation of writers, he was reluctant to join a movement such as the Gaelic League, which he saw as bigoted, backward-looking, and Church-dominated. With his friend George Clancy he briefly took Irish lessons from Padraic Pearse, a poet who was later executed after the 1916 Insurrection, but objected to Pearse's disparagement of the English language. Also, like Stephen he feared to commit himself wholly to a political movement in search of martyrs.
In his second year at University Joyce distinguished himself by presenting a paper on "Drama and Life" at the school's Literary and Historical Society, over the objections of school authorities. In it he enthusiastically defended modern
drama, as exemplified by Ibsen, against its attackers; art has a responsibility to represent life as it is actually lived, rather than as convention dictates, he argued, and indeed has its own laws and logic as an expression of the artist that is nearly beyond judgement. More impressively, Joyce expanded upon his defense of Ibsen in an article that was published in the influential British Fortnightly Review. Ibsen himself responded with an appreciative note that his translator William Archer forwarded to Joyce, and Joyce set himself to learning Dano-Norwegian so as to read the Scandinavian Master in the original.
From youth, Joyce had shown a talent for languages. The Jesuits had
immediately set him reading Latin, and at University College he studied
Italian, German, and French. Yeats's enthusiasm for the native culture
failed to win Joyce; he argued
that "a nation which never advanced so far as a miracle play affords no literary model to the artist, and he must look abroad." Gradually he was becoming convinced that he would have to escape Ireland. Europe he saw as a freer, more
cosmopolitan world, and his languages would enable him to survive there. As it turned out, Joyce spent nearly the whole of his mature life in Europe, and his children were raised speaking Italian and French as easily as English.
Joyce of course was not the only artist or rebel at University College.
His friend Francis Skeffington was a committed feminist and pacifist who
argued that women should be admitted to Ireland's universities. Joyce and
appears rather unflatteringly as McCann in Portrait--published at their own expense a pamphlet containing an essay of Joyce's attacking philistines entitled "The Day of the Rabblement" along with a feminist essay by his friend. Skeffington later married a friend of Joyce's and changed his name to Sheehy-Skeffington in her honor. He was murdered by a British officer during the 1916 insurrection after trying to stop British troops from looting. This outrage caused consternation both among the British officer's family, which included the future Anglo-Irish novelist Elizabeth Bowen, and Skeffington's British relatives, who changed their name in shame at his "treason."
Other friends included John Francis Byrne, who appears as "Cranly" and
who later published a book protesting Joyce's version of their relationship,
and Vincent Cosgrave ("Lynch"), who caused Joyce pain several years later
claiming to have slept with Joyce's lover Nora. Cosgrave was to commit suicide, while Thomas Kettle, a talented scholar and writer, died in the Battle of the Somme, and George Clancy, who became mayor of Limerick, was shot by disguised Protestant irregulars in 1921. Joyce was often thought paranoid in later life because he refused to return to Ireland, but surprisingly few of his friends at U.C.D. died a natural death.
Another acquaintance of this period who was to figure importantly in
Joyce's writing was Oliver St. John Gogarty, son of a wealthy Anglo-irish
family who was attending Trinity and, like many of Joyce's school friends,
preparing for a career in medicine. Gogarty was a prolifically talented
young man who became a protege of Yeats, appearing in several of his poetry
anthologies, and in later life was a successful physician, Irish senator,
and a well-known public figure in Dublin. An athlete, scholar, writer,
and general carouser, Gogarty "adopted" Joyce for a period, lending him
clothing and money, and for a week in 1904 shared quarters in a Martello
tower south of Dublin with him. This period is immortalized in Joyce's
Ulysses, where Gogarty appears as Stephen's companion, rival, and--for
reasons that remain somewhat obscure--his betrayer, Buck Mulligan. Like
several of Joyce's school friends, Gogarty was aware that Joyce was making
notes on him, preparing to use him in a literary work. In Ulysses Stephen
muses, "He fears the lancet of my art." Indeed in later life Gogarty found
himself protesting that he was not Buck Mulligan, but a real human being.
Like Byrne, he published his own very different version of his relationship
with Joyce. Like Joyce's brother Stanislaus, Gogarty appeared in an early
version of Portrait (part of which has been published as Stephen Hero),
but was cut from
the final draft in order to give more prominence to Stephen.
For all their differences, Stephen and Joyce in this period shared what
Joyce termed an "enigma of a manner," a rather formal and aloof persona
with which to confront rival students, and a sometimes showy and pedantic
way of speaking.
Coupled with a certain reputation for debauchery--Stephen "confesses" some of his experiences with prostitutes to Davin--this helped establish his considerable reputation as a young man to be reckoned with. Eugene Sheehy observed that "Joyce, the schoolboy, was as icy, aloof, and imperturbable as. . . Joyce the man." Another friend described him delivering a paper before a debating society: "Joyce, thin and pale, stood erect, scarcely moving, cold and undisturbed by interruptions (and he had many), and seemed in passionless tones to wither the opposition by his air of indifferent disdain." He might have been Yeats facing down the rioters at the Abbey Theatre, ("You have disgraced yourselves again!") or Parnell campaigning in his last years. Following the debate on his paper and Joyce's demolition of each of his critics, a student slapped his back and exclaimed, "Joyce, that was magnificent, but you're raving mad!"
It should be noted that U.C.D. students of the time were a more rigorously
selected group than those at the average American university today; also,
typically they would have had considerable training in Latin, perhaps Greek,
the classics since childhood. Competitiveness was instilled by nationwide examinations and cash prizes. Their primary and secondary education stressed memorization of passages and the preparation of essays modeled on those of the
great rhetoricians, so that when Stephen attacks Lynch with his "dagger definitions," for instance, he is merely practicing the art for which he has been trained. The young Joyce's intellectual style was striking mainly because he chose to cite obscure Ancients and embattled Moderns rather than the accepted Greats, and Continental rather than English writers. Also, of course, he wrote very well. Still, Joyce's portrait gives Stephen more rigor and sophistication than he himself probably possessed at the time. Although Stephen considers himself a student of Aquinas and Aristotle--and garners considerable intellectual status from this--it appears from his notebooks that Joyce himself studied Aristotle intensely only after leaving the university.
Although Stephen has fixed his romantic yearnings since childhood upon
the insubstantial "E. C.", or "Emma," Joyce seems to have had no such abiding
passion. His brother Stanislaus has suggested he may have been infatuated
time with a girl named Mary Sheehy for a time, and certainly she, along with her bright and talented sisters, served in part as a model for E. C. In Stephen Hero she appears more vigorously as Emma Clery, with whom Stephen is cautiously
involved, and in that manuscript argues with him over the right of women to the same education men receive. Stephen imperiously disagrees, and later suggests that the two of them spend a single night of wild passion, then part, never to
see one another again. Not surprisingly, this generous offer fails to tempt her. A friend of Stephen's observes that he could marry her, but Stephen considers that price too high; and like Joyce, he feels that the institution of marriage
is an unwarranted intrusion of State and Church into private relationships. Like Church, Family, and Nation, marriage is another "net" thrown up to catch the artist's fledgling soul.
FLIGHT TO EUROPE
In 1902 Joyce graduated from University College with a rather undistinguished B.A., briefly enrolled as a medical student, and in December left Dublin for Paris, armed with introductions from Yeats and others and the possibility of
supporting himself meagerly by writing book reviews for newspapers. He had left with George Russell a group of his unpublished verses. He also left with Russell a group of what he called "epiphanies" or "epicleti," short prose sketches that vary in character from lyrical, dream-like effusions to literal reportage of overheard vulgar conversations. Joyce struggled in Paris, returned home for money, then returned to Paris, where he stopped attending medical lectures and
began studying in the National Library. He met Yeats's protege, the playwright John M. Synge, whom he accused of being insufficiently Aristotelian. Then in April, 1903, he was recalled home by a telegram announcing his mother's fatal
illness. Her request that he pray with her brought on another religious crisis, and during this time and following her death he drank heavily, especially with Gogarty. This disgusted Stanislaus, his highly intelligent, more conventional younger brother, whom he bullied, confided in, and depended upon for much of his life. At the beginning of 1904 he taught briefly in a school in a Dublin suburb. Then, sometime around June 16, he met and, in the Irish phrase, "walked out with" Nora Barnacle, a country girl from Galway working as a hotel chambermaid. She was to be in many ways the central figure during the remainder of his life.
Joyce began writing in earnest now. He began with a lyrical, revolutionary,
and rather obscure essay that Stanislaus entitled "A Portrait of the Artist",
which was to be the earliest version of the autobiographical novel his
feared he was writing. He published a story entitled "The Sisters" that Russell had commissioned for his magazine The Irish Homestead, under the pseudonym "Stephen Daedalus." Russell took two more stories and several of his poems.
Joyce sent a collection of his poems entitled Chamber Music to the English publisher Grant Richards. Then, in November, he left Dublin with Nora, without benefit of marriage, planning to teach English in a Berlitz school in Zurich.
Except for brief visits, he would never return to Ireland. Joyce wound up teaching in Trieste and in 1905 completed nine more of the short stories that were to form the book Dubliners; he sent the whole collection to Richards, thus beginning a painful eight-year effort to publish the volume. His brother Stanislaus joined him in Trieste, and a son, George, or "Giorgio," was born to him and Nora. Two years later, his daughter Lucia Anna was born. During this period Joyce was under considerable strain: although he had avoided the legal title of husband, he soon discovered that in practical terms he was both husband and father. Like his father he was generally improvident and given to bouts of drinking which his constitution was never really strong enough to recover from easily. At times, he doubted whether he should be with Nora. The responsibility of a family weighed upon him, especially as he never doubted that his primary responsibility should be to his art. Stanislaus often rescued the Joyces and tried to play the role of his brother's good conscience, a kindness that Joyce of course resented. After Joyce's death, Stanislaus wrote a book on James entitled My Brother's Keeper.
THE WRITING CAREER
By 1907 Joyce had added several stories to the Dubliners collection, including his masterpiece, "The Dead," and he had conceived the idea of a story involving a Dublin Jew which, some fifteen years later, was to become the monumental novel Ulysses. Chamber Music had been published. He was writing newspaper articles and delivering public lectures to the Trieste cultural community. Slowly he began to reshape the long, rambling, rather conventional autobiographical novel on which he had been working into a tight, elliptical, formally experimental work, although this process bore its greatest fruit only after 1913, when Ezra Pound began to encourage him. Meanwhile, the effort to publish Dubliners was a
continual frustration. Grant Richards, who had originally accepted the collection in 1906, demanded more and more changes. Joyce agreed to a few, refused others, and Richards finally rejected the book. After four other publishers had rejected it, Maunsel and Company accepted it in 1909. Under British law a printer as well as a publisher could be sued if a book were found libellous or obscene, and Maunsel's printer was timid. Finally, the galley sheets for the book were destroyed in 1912. Enraged, Joyce wrote a scurrilous and funny broadside poem about the publisher and printer entitled "Gas from a Burner" and had it distributed in Dublin. After more rejections by other publishers, Grant Richards reconsidered Dubliners in 1913 and printed it in the following year. No one sued or even objected publicly. Meanwhile, in an unsuccessful and uncharacteristic foray into business, in 1909 Joyce had helped establish the first cinema in Ireland.
Ezra Pound was probably as responsible as anyone other than Joyce for the appearance of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. The American poet was not only a significant Modernist writer in his own right, he was also an indefatigable discoverer and promoter of other artists. Yeats had sent him a lyric of Joyce's which he decided to include in his anthology Des Imagistes, and in response to his letter to Joyce, he received a revised first chapter of Portrait as well as a copy of Dubliners. Pound convinced a literary and philosophical journal called The Egoist, which was originally founded as a feminist organ, to serialize the novel. Meanwhile, war had broken out and Joyce had begun work on his only play, an Ibsenesque drama entitled Exiles. Generally considered his least interesting work, the play concerns an Irish writer who returns home after living in Europe with his commonlaw wife and son; he renews acquaintance with a popular journalist and sensualist who attempts to seduce his wife. The writer has insisted that his relationship with the woman should be free and open, and in a sort of experiment asks her to encourage the other man's advances. After considerable suffering all around, the play ends ambiguously, with the writer and audience unsure whether she has been faithful to him, or even what faithfulness might mean. Joyce, always tormented but fascinated by his jealousy of Nora, was to use marital fidelity as an important theme of his later works.
Installments of Portrait began to appear in The Egoist; perhaps more important, Harriet Shaw Weaver, the American who had taken over as editor, was moved to settle a trust on Joyce in 1919 that freed him from serious financial worries. Her personal as well as financial support was crucial during the remainder of his life. Meanwhile, after some unsuccessful attempts to publish the book in England, Portrait was published in America by B. W. Huebsch in 1916, and Weaver's Egoist Press used the same plates for a British edition the following year. Joyce had a serious attack of glaucoma, the beginning of the problems with his eyesight that were to grow increasingly acute until, in the last decade of his life, he was virtually blind. But his major interest during the war years was work on the book that was to become Ulysses, parts of which were serialized in the Little Review starting in 1918.
In some ways Ulysses begins where Portrait leaves off. It opens on June 16, 1904, with Stephen Dedalus sharing rooms in a Martello tower on the east coast of Ireland, south of Dublin, with "Buck" Mulligan and a visiting Englishman
named Haines who is studying Irish culture. Stephen has returned from Paris, where he has had experiences much like Joyce's, and he is recovering from the death of his mother. But in the fourth chapter of the book we are introduced to
a new character, a Jewish advertising canvasser named Leopold Bloom whose wife, Molly, is planning on committing adultery with a man named "Blazes" Boylan that afternoon. Bloom knows Stephen's father, but has no obvious connection to the boy; nevertheless, the meeting of the two is as much of a dramatic climax as the book admits. The entirety of Ulysses' seven-hundred-odd pages takes place on the same day, during which we go deeply into the minds of both main characters--and, finally, of Molly as well--and meet a bewildering variety of subsidiary ones.
But perhaps the book's most striking feature is its narrative innovations. Starting around the ninth chapter, the narration, which had begun in a mode something like the last chapter of Portrait (although with more internal monologue), begins to vary wildly. There are interpolated episodes in play form, a chapter narrated by an unnamed barfly, one that is told as if it were a poorly written domestic romance, one told in ludicrously abstract question-and-answer form, and so forth. Perhaps the most noticeable shift in tone from Portrait is due to the humor of the book: it is crammed with jokes, from high intellectual verbal play to the most vulgar slapstick. On several occasions Joyce remarked that he wished reviewers, instead of worrying about the book's obscenity, would at least notice that it was funny. While writing Ulysses Joyce had returned to Trieste, and then in 1920 at the urging of Pound the Joyces had gone to Paris for a week's excursion. They wound up staying twenty years. With the enthusiastic support of Pound, T. S. Eliot, and a Parisian bookstore-owner named Sylvia Beach, Joyce soon gathered an admiring circle of friends, French literary luminaries, and aspiring young writers from England and America. When the Little Review editors were prosecuted for obscenity because of an episode of Ulysses that appeared there, it only added to Joyce's international fame. By the time Beach's bookstore, Shakespeare and Company, published the first edition of the complete book in 1922, Joyce was already the literary toast of Paris, and had been acclaimed by many as the greatest modern writer of English prose.
Meanwhile, Joyce circulated among friends a chart showing in detail
what the book's title had not made entirely clear: that despite its surface
naturalism, his novel contained an elaborate series of correspondences
to Homer's Odyssey.
Indeed, in 1930, after considerable help and occasional direction from Joyce, Stuart Gilbert published a book on Ulysses exploring these correspondences and many other subtle features of the novel. Critics now conventionally refer to the chapters of the book by the titles of the parallel episodes in the Odyssey, such as "Lestrygonians" or "Aeolus." Gilbert also helped with the French translation of Ulysses, which--again with Joyce's advice and encouragement--appeared in 1929, and had considerable impact upon French literature.
Despite the fact that it was banned from publication in America, Ulysses
was frequently smuggled into the country, becoming one of the best-known
banned books of all time. Still, it was not until 1934 that Random House,
leadership of Bennett Cerf, won a landmark court battle and the right to publish Ulysses in America; two years later it was published in England as well. But in the meantime, starting in 1923, Joyce had begun work on his most radical and
ambitious work of prose, the book parts of which were published as Work in Progress (among other provisional titles) but which finally emerged as Finnegans Wake. From its first fragment, published in Ford Madox Ford's transatlantic
review in 1924, the Wake caused trouble for Joyce. Many of his friends and supporters were dismayed. Pound confessed himself baffled, and even Harriet Weaver expressed disappointment, which caused Joyce considerable pain. The book is written in a "night-language" far removed from ordinary English, jammed with portmanteau words and multilingual puns. When a friend objected that some of the puns in the Wake were trivial, Joyce replied that some were indeed trivial, and some quadrivial. Worse, there are no fixed characters or events in the book--or,
alternately, there are too many for comfort.
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