James Joyce is one of the most powerful and at the same time controversial figures in the English literature of the second half of the 20th century. His heritage still resonates with today’s generations not only in the English world, but also among the literary circles of Europe and the USA.
The critics don’t have a unanimously formed opinion about his influence and mastery. Some call him the father of avant-garde literature, and his novel “Ulysses”, which made the writer especially famous, as the encyclopedia of modernism literary genres. But others interpret his language of dreams and subconsciousness as confusing and disgusting.
James Augustine Aloysius Joyce was born on February 2, 1882, in Dublin, Ireland. His family was of middle-class origins and he spent his childhood in a well-off atmosphere. His father was a rate collector and his grandparents had a history of owning a couple of businesses. The family had ten children, some of which didn’t survive the maladies.
James Joyce was interested in a wide range of subjects: art, religion, philosophy, linguistics, history, and science. And in the center of all these areas, he saw a man. No wonder Joyce was often considered to be one of the most educated artists of his time.
During the time that the author lived in Ireland, he was also exposed to the independence movements and Irish Renaissance circles. The country was full of political and religious agenda, where Catholics didn't see eye to eye with Protestants. James found himself in similar circumstances, with his father being a fierce Protestant and supporting the radical movement for Irish autonomy, while his mother was closer to Catholic approaches.
It was because of his mother’s will that James entered Jesuit college in 1888. In 1898 he enrolled at the University College Dublin where he studied modern myths and philosophy. During his school years, James started to write and published a couple of texts. His review of Ibsen’s play was published in “The Fortnightly Review” in 1900 and the author even received a thank you note from his favorite Norwegian dramatist.
After graduating from the University College Dublin he dived into religion but eventually refused to take the gown. He decided to devote his life to the art and even used to sings for a living.
James Joyce never took an active part in the social and political life of the country, but he couldn’t remain indifferent to what was going on in Ireland. Despite the fact that he spent a lot of years abroad, living in Switzerland and France, his works mostly center around Dublin.
It is around this time that the author wrote a collection of short stories “Dubliners” (1914). The book is a compilation of 15 separate stories each with distinctive Irish culture and personality. The stories also reveal the concept of epiphany very much loved by Joyce.
During his student years, Joyce was involved with the theatre crowd. He attended the Irish Literary Theatre, whose founder used the stage as a tool to evoke the feelings of patriotism and freedom among the viewers. James Joyce admired the works of Henrik Ibsen and Gerhart Hauptmann, theatre of Maeterlinck. But he himself wrote only one play. It is entitled “Exiles” (1918). There the writer described the ordinary life of a couple after the World War I.
James Joyce started working on his signature novel, “Ulysses”, when he moved to Zurich right before the World War I started. “Ulysses” was published in 1922 in France. It is the most known book of the author and it also bears a very close resemblance to Ireland and Dublin, despite the fact of being written abroad. The author devoted over 600 pages to the story of one day in the history: June 16, 1904.
Joyce closely connects “Ulysses” plot with “Odysseus” by Homer. Each of the book’s 18 chapters is tightly intervened with one of the episodes from the epic Greek book. The protagonist of the book, Leopold, Moly, and Stephen have prototypes from their ancient peers Odysseus, Penelope, and Telemachus. Each chapter has a very specific description of the location where the events take place. The author also claimed that each chapter is connected with a body part, specific color, and even symbol.
The stream of consciousness writing offers a large field for interpretations. That’s why the critics also build multiple connections between Joyce and Freud. The popularity of the psychoanalysis must have influenced the writer in his style, however, he himself didn’t speak very highly of Freud and Jung. The connection between them is clear: they all wanted to get deep into the human consciousness, observe its smallest parts and get into the depth where literature has never touched before. But they chose different approaches to do it.
James Joyce visited Paris for the first time at the beginning of the 19th century after graduation. The author then lived in this city since 1920 and up to the beginning of the World War II. Despite his popularity and the highly acclaimed “Ulysses”, the author had little means for living and greatly depended on patrons. He suffered from sight problems and was finishing his last novel “Finnegans Wake” (1939) almost blind. At the beginning of the Second World War the author decided to move back home, but because of ill health didn’t manage to do it. He died in Zurich on January 13, 1941.
The literary heritage of the author consists of over 205 texts, among which three books of poetry and many journalism pieces and reviews. They include “The Chamber Music” (1907), a novel “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” (1916) and many other works. They are all unique and special, yet together these texts are often viewed as one big step towards the mastery demonstrated in “Ulysses”.