James Joyce

Life and Works

The eldest of ten children born in a Dublin suburb, Joyce was educated at Jesuit schools—Clongowes Wood College in Clane (1888–91) and Belvedere College in Dublin (1893–99)—and then attended University College in Dublin (1899–1902). Although a brilliant student, he was only sporadically interested in the official curriculum. In 1902 he lived briefly in Paris and returned to the Continent in 1904 with Nora Barnacle, the woman who would eventually become his wife. For the next 25 years Joyce, Nora, and their children lived at various times in Trieste, Zürich, and Paris.

Joyce returned to Ireland briefly in 1909 in a futile attempt to start a chain of motion picture theaters in Dublin, and again in 1912 in an unsuccessful attempt to arrange for the publication of the short story collection Dubliners, which had to be abandoned due to fears of prosecution for obscenity and libel. Although the plates were destroyed, Dubliners was finally published in England in 1914. A short volume of poetry, Chamber Music, was his first published volume; it appeared in 1907. He published two subsequent volumes of poetry, Pomes Pennyeach (1927) and Collected Poems (1937).

Joyce and his family spent the years of World War I in Zürich, where he finished his novel A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. It first appeared in The Egoist, a periodical edited by Harriet Shaw Weaver, and was published in book form in 1916. In 1917, Joyce contracted glaucoma; for the rest of his life he would endure pain, periods of near blindness, and many operations. At this time he also wrote his only play, the Ibsenesque Exiles (1918).

Ulysses, written between 1914 and 1921, was published in parts in The Little Review and The Egoist, but Joyce encountered the same opposition to publishing the novel in book form that he had confronted with Dubliners. It was published in Paris in 1922 by Shakespeare & Company, a bookstore owned by Sylvia Beach, an American expatriate. Its publication was banned in the United States until 1933. For many years he lived mainly on money donated by patrons, notably Harriet Shaw Weaver.

From 1922 until 1939 Joyce worked on Finnegans Wake (1939), a complex novel that attempts to connect multiple cycles of Irish and human history into the framework of a single night's events in the family of a Dublin publican. In 1931 Joyce finally married Nora. Her practical, sometimes cynical response to Joyce's work provided a needed complement to his own self-absorption. Joyce and Nora had a turbulent relationship; both were profoundly affected by the progressive insanity of their daughter. Joyce died in Zürich in 1941 after an operation for a perforated duodenal ulcer.

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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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