James Joyce struggled to become a recognized writer in his early career. After the release of Ulysses, his career skyrocketed, allowing him success and recognition not only for the content of his works, but his unique, new styles of writing. Learn more about Joyce as Ira Riklis delves into his life, career, and death.
Early Family Life
The eldest of 10 children born to his parents in Dublin, Ireland, James Joyce was born February 2, 1882, and named James Augustine Aloysius Joyce. The family never had money to speak of, even before nine other children came along. This was due in part because his father drank and squandered some of the money from his job and as a well-recognized tenor, known for his exceptional singing voice.
Even as a child, James Joyce showed that he was intelligent and had an insatiable quest for learning. He received his education at schools in Ireland and received a Bachelor of Arts in modern languages from the University of Dublin.
Initially, Joyce planned to enter the medical field, moving to Paris after graduating college. That changed, however, when his mother became ill, forcing his return to Ireland, where he stayed a while after her death.
While in Ireland he met Nora Barnacle, a hotel employee, who later became his wife. They had two children together.
James Joyce: Early Writing Career
After Joyce settled down, he took a job as a teacher, with an interest in writing occupying much of his spare time. He had minimal success in the beginning of his writing career, only publishing his first short story in an Irish magazine. Irish Homestead later published two additional stories written by Joyce. However, as Biography points out, this was not enough success to keep Joyce in Ireland. He and Nora moved several times, settling in cities such as Rome and Paris.
His first book, published in 1914 and titled Dubliners, was actually a collection of 15 short stories. His next book, the novel Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, received attention from American poet Ezra Pound, who praised the work.
Famous Authors explains that Ulysses became the defining moment in the career of James Joyce.
Ulysses, written largely after Joyce moved to Zurich with his family after the beginning of WWI, was initially published in France. Both the United States and the United Kingdom banned the work, citing censorship of alleged pornographic, obscene nature of some of the content. The U.S. Post Office even seized a shipment of magazines that published the work of James Joyce. New York customs agents seized copies of the book, bound for publishing company Random House. Of course the fact that the book was banned only caused more hype surrounding its release, making it all the more popular as people around the globe sought to get their hands on a copy.
The book told a modern-day account of Homer’s Odyssey, with Homer’s character Telemachus, Ulysses and Penelope, who, in the Joyce version, became the characters Stephen Dedalus, Leopold Bloom and Leopold’s wife, Molly Bloom.
The actions that unfold in the novel take place in Dublin over just one single day, yet closely follow the 10-year journey of the three main characters in Odyssey. The novel also brings to life the stream of consciousnesses “As a literary technique,” as well as interior monologue, both of which Biography indicates led to a new kind of novel.
The alleged obscenity and pornographic nature of Ulysses became a court case, with the presiding judge deciding that the book was not pornographic. Americans were finally free to read Ulysses.
Death Of A Literary Celebrity
James Joyce suffered from health issues throughout his career, mainly issues affecting his vision. Still, he managed to write Finnegan’s Wake, which proved an even more difficult novel to read than Ulysses.
With Nazis closing in after WWII, Joyce moved his family once again. He died January 13, 1941, after an intestinal operation.