Bite my laughters...

Come on up, Kinch. Come up, you fearful Jesuit.

Joyce Biography

Biography of James Joyce – Tim Miller of Six Galley Press has kindly donated this comprehensive biographical essay on James Joyce. Soon to be published in Jacob’s Ladder 3, it is available here as a PDF, available for online reading and downloading.

Joycean Chronology

Joycean Chronology – Bob Williams has supplied a wonderful chronology that outlines Joyce’s life from 1882 to 1941.


The following two biographical sketches are taken from online sources. For a more comprehensive look at James Joyce, please refer to Tim Miller’s biography, “And a Very Good Time it Was.”

I. Joyce, James Augustine
(From the Online Biographical Encyclopedia)

JOYCE, JAMES AUGUSTINE (1882 - 1941), one of the most radical innovators of twentieth-century writing, who dedicated himself to exuberant exploration of the total resources of language. He was born at Rathgar, a suburb of Dublin, on Feb. 2, 1882. His father, who took pride in coming of an old and substantial Cork family, had some talent as a musician and much more as a genial lounger, and was little troubled by the economic straits into which is household was drifting during his son’s boyhood. Joyce was sent at first to the expensive Jesuit boarding school described in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. But by the time he entered the Faculty of Arts in University College, Dublin, he was already involved in that struggle with dire poverty which was to continue into his middle years. He seems to have inherited something of his father’s improvidence; and when benefactions from admirers began to reach him, a good deal of the money was spent in the best restaurants of Paris. But with the son, as not with the father, these indulgences went along with a life of unremitting labor. Joyce was a dedicated artist of the first order.
He grew up a rebel among rebels. Those movements, whether political or literary, which had as their objective the freeing of Ireland from English dominance, held very little attraction for him. His instinct was for a broader European culture, and to this an exceptional faculty for linguistic study gave him precocious access. Among companions who were picking up a little Gaelic and were enthusiastic for the theater of Yeats, Synge, and Lady Gregory, Joyce stdied Dano-Norwegian and opposed to the Celtic twilight the hard, clear illumination of Ibsen in his realistic phase.
In a city much given to artistic coteries he remained aloof and even arrogant. For a time he led, or claimed to lead, a life of more than common adolescent irregularity; his early fugitive productions were often improper or scandalous. A powerful and original intellect made him quickly intolerant of the narrow curriculum of his college and of the strict Roman Catholic orthodoxy by which it was controlled.
In 1902 he broke away from his family and his studies and went to Paris on a tenous proposal to read medicine. After a year of near starvation he was recalled to Dublin to the deathbed of his mother. His refusal to kneel in prayer beside the dying woman, whether it be matter of fact or the artistic transmutation of fact, certainly marks that turning point in his life at which he formally renounced the Christian faith and thereby thought to free himself from influences by which (as we can now see) his mind had been irrevocably coloured.
In 1904 Joyce again departed for the Continent, this time taking with him a girl called Nora Barnacle, who became the mother of his son and daughter, and whom he married in 1931. Miss Barnacle, who is said to have worked in a Dublin hotel [as a chambermaid], had little education and no understanding of Joyce’s work; to the end she seems to have felt merely that he made things very difficult for himself by writing in so strange a fashion. But she shared the fondness for music and was vivacious and humourous. Joyce’s domestic life was a happy one – although indeed checkered by a morbid jealousy correlative with his sense of persecution as a writer and in its last years darkened by his daughter’s decline into insanity.
He worked for many years as a teacher of English in Trieste and Zurich, in an exile which was to grow legendary with his tardily achieved fame. The course of his career, like that of so many artists of his time, was much influenced by the American poet Ezra Pound, whome he was on one occasion to describe as having taken him “out of the gutter”. Pound indeed was to disapprove of Work in Progress, but before this he had been largely instrumental in sponsoring Joyce and in introducing him into circles which made easier his eventual setting in paris. There the writer who had in youth stood out against coteries became himself the center of a coterie.
His eyesight deteriorated progressively. This, plus the great difficulties of printing and proofreading his often strange and fantastic writings, made him peculiarly dependent on the assistance of devoted friends. This he abundantly received, and although his circle tended to surround his labours with pretentious and absurd exegesis, it was composed in the main of persons of generous and amiable disposition. Joyce lived largely on the gifts of patrons - notably of Harriet Weaver, and no Medici could have been more munificent. For long the judgments and prejudices of society had impeded his efforts to support himself and his family as a man of letters. He rightly considered his reliance upon patronage as entirely honorable. Joyce had weathered World War I in Zurich; and he and his wife, with their son and grandson, managed to make their way to Zurich in the second year of World War II. His last published letter, dated Dec 20, 1940, thanks the mayor for the asylumn granted him and exhibits the simplicity and dignity of one who knows his place in the literary history of his time. He died in Zurich on Jan 13, 1941.

II. James (Augustine Aloysius) Joyce
(From the Reader’s Companion to Twentieth Century Writers, Ed. Peter Parker)

James (Augustine Aloysius) Joyce
1882 - 1941

Joyce was born in Dublin, where his father was a rates collector. He was educated at a Jesuit school and University College, Dublin where he studied philosophy and language. When he was still an undergraduate, in 1900, his long review of Ibsen’s last play was published in the Fortnightly Review. At this time he also began writing his poems which were later collected in Chamber Music, published in 1907.
In 1902 Joyce left Dublin for Paris, but returned the following year as his mother was dying. From 1904 he lived with Nora Barnacle, whom he married in 1931 (the year his father died), a son was born in 1905, and a daughter in 1918. Their home from 1905 to 1915 was Trieste, where Joyce taught English at the Berlitz school. In 1909 and 1912 he made his final trips to Ireland, attempting to arrange the publication of his first book Dubliners, which finally appeared in England in 1914. It was during this time that he was contacted by Ezra Pound, a leading champion of modernist writers who helped organise financial payments to keep Joyce writing during his most poverty-stricken periods.
Dubliners is a series of short, interrelated stories which deal with the lives of ordinary people, whose actions are invested with a symbolic profundity. Joyce explores what would become central themes in his work: youth, adolescence, adulthood and maturity, and how identify is affected by these different stages in life.
The following year, Joyce wrote Exiles, his only play, and went into permanent exile himself. He is taken, in fact, as the quintessential exiled writer of the twentieth century, who obsessively relates to his past by distancing himself from it. The year 1914 was an intensely productive one for Joyce; he had two books in print and began work on his greatest achievement, Ulysses. In 1916 A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man appeared (it had been published in serial form in The Egoist from 1914 to 1915), and established Joyce’s reputation as a writer of genius. The fullest and most accomplished product to have emerged from the modernist movement in European literature, it presented the world of Dublin solely through the consciousness of the narrator, and charted his growth from Catholic boyhood to an early adulthood defined by a yearning to be an artist.
It was in this year that Joyce and his family moved to Zurich, where they lived in great poverty while he worked on Ulysses, despite undergoing surgery on his eyes. It began to appear in serial form in the Little Review in 1918, but was suspended in 1920 following prosecution. It eventually appeared in book form in 1922 in Paris, where Joyce and his family had settled, in a limited edition of 1,000 copies, and was followed by an English edition of 2,000 copies, also printed in Paris. The first unlimited edition followed in 1924, again in Paris, but there was no American edition until ten years later, and no British edition until 1937.
The novel traces the experiences of Mr Leopold Bloom, his wife Molly (whose erotic reverie towards the book’s close is what caused most of the legal difficulties) and the poet Stephen Dedalus from A Portrait of the Artist during a single day in Dublin in 1904. As its title suggests, however, the book is an epic, loosely analogous to Homer’s Odyssey, which is echoed in several episodes. Enormously long and complex, using a variety of styles – notably the ’stream-of-consciousness’ method – Ulysses is one of the great literary achievments of the century, and has been described as the greatest novel ever written.
Joyce’s other major novel, Finnegans Wake, is even more uncompromising than Ulysses, written in a language of his his own devising, a great mixture of linguistic fragments and borrowings. It was published in 1939, the year after the Joyces returned to Switzerland from France. Joyce died the following year. His reputation has grown immeasurably since his death, partly because of the growth in academia. He is the one novelist in whom we can be sure to place our absolute trust, the single figure we can also be sure will be remembered, if any are, in 1,000 year’s times. As one critic famously wrote: “James Joyce was and remains almost unique among novelists in that he published nothing but masterpieces.”

–Allen B. Ruch
25 April 2005

He seemed to have laid an ear against the muscle of his own heart, feeling it close and quail, listening to the flutter of its ventricles. – Send email to the Great Quail – comments, suggestions, corrections, criticisms, submissions . . . all are welcome!

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