Read The Eloquent Atheist Webzine

Infidels, Freethinkers, Humanists, and Unbelievers
Joyce, James Augustine Aloysius (1882-1941)
"He comes into the world God knows how, walks on the water, gets out of his grave and goes up off the Hill of Howth. What drivel is this?"

-- James Joyce

James Augustine Aloysius Joyce was an expatriate Irish writer and poet, widely considered to be one of the most influential writers of the 20th century. He is best known for his short story collection Dubliners (1914), and his novels A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916), Ulysses (1922), and Finnegans Wake (1939).

Although most of his adult life was spent outside the country, Joyce's Irish experiences are essential to his writings and provide all of the settings for his fiction and much of their subject matter. His fictional universe is firmly rooted in Dublin and reflects his family life and the events and friends (and enemies) from his school and college days. Due to this, he became both one of the most cosmopolitan and one of the most local of all the great English language modernists.

Life and writings

Dublin, 1882-1904
In 1882, James Augustine Joyce was born into a Catholic family in the Dublin suburb of Rathgar. He was the eldest of ten surviving children; two of his siblings died of typhoid. His father's family, originally from Cork, had once owned a small salt and lime works. Joyce's father and paternal grandfather both married into wealthy families.

In 1887, his father, John Stanislaus Joyce, was appointed rate collector by Dublin Corporation; the family subsequently moved to the fashionable new suburb of Bray. Around this time Joyce was attacked by a dog, an event which caused a lifelong fear of dogs, in addition to his fear of thunderstorms, which had been inspired by his deeply religious aunt as a sign of God's divine wrath.

In 1891, James wrote a poem, "Et Tu Healy," on the death of Charles Stewart Parnell. His father had it printed and even sent a copy to the Vatican Library. In November of that same year, John Joyce was entered in Stubbs Gazette (an official register of bankruptcies) and suspended from work. In 1893 John Joyce was dismissed with a pension. This was the beginning of a slide into poverty for the family, mainly due to John's drinking and general financial mismanagement.

James Joyce was initially educated at Clongowes Wood College, a boarding school in County Kildare, which he entered in 1888 but had to leave in 1892 when his father could no longer pay the fees. Joyce then studied at home and briefly at the Christian Brothers school on North Richmond Street, Dublin, before he was offered a place in the Jesuits' Dublin school, Belvedere College, in 1893. The offer was made at least partly in the hope that he would prove to have a vocation and join the Order. Joyce, however, was to reject Catholicism by the age of 16, although the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas would remain a strong influence on him throughout his life.

He enrolled at the recently established University College Dublin in 1898. He studied modern languages, specifically English, French and Italian. He also became active in theatrical and literary circles in the city. His review of Ibsen's New Drama was published in 1900 and resulted in a letter of thanks from the Norwegian dramatist himself. Joyce wrote a number of other articles and at least two plays (since lost) during this period. Many of the friends he made at University College would appear as characters in Joyce's written works.

After graduating from UCD in 1903, Joyce left for Paris; ostensibly to study medicine, but in reality he squandered money his family could ill afford. He returned to Ireland after a few months, when his mother was diagnosed with cancer. Joyce refused to pray at her bedside but this seems to have had more to do with Joyce's agnosticism than antagonism for his mother. After she died he continued to drink heavily, and conditions at home grew quite appalling. He scraped a living reviewing books, teaching and singing.

On 7 January 1904, he wrote A Portrait of the Artist, an essay-story dealing with aesthetics, in a day, only to have it rejected from the free-thinking magazine Dana. He decided, on his twenty-second birthday, to revise the story and turn it into a novel he planned to call Stephen Hero. The same year he met Nora Barnacle, a young woman from Connemara, County Galway who was working as a chambermaid. On 16 June 1904, they went on their first date, an event which would be commemorated by providing the date for the action of Ulysses.

Joyce remained in Dublin for some time longer, drinking heavily. After one of these drinking binges, he got into a fight over a misunderstanding with a man in Phoenix Park; he was picked up and dusted off by a minor acquaintance of his father's, Alfred H. Hunter, who brought him into his home to tend to his injuries. Hunter was rumored to be a Jew and to have an unfaithful wife, and would serve as one of the models for Leopold Bloom, the main protagonist of Ulysses.

He took up with medical student Oliver St John Gogarty, who formed the basis for the character Buck Mulligan in Ulysses. After staying in Gogarty's Martello Tower for six nights he left in the middle of the night following an altercation which involved Gogarty shooting a pistol in his direction. He walked all the way back to Dublin to stay with relatives for the night, and sent a friend to the tower the next day to pack his trunk. Shortly thereafter he eloped to the continent with Nora.

1904-1920: Trieste and Zurich
Joyce and Nora went into self-imposed exile, moving first to Zurich, where he had supposedly acquired a post teaching English at the Berlitz Language School through an agent in England. It turned out that the English agent had been swindled, but the director of the school sent him on to Trieste, in Austria-Hungary.

Once again, he found there was no position for him, but with the help of Almidano Artifoni, director of the Trieste Berlitz school, he finally secured a teaching position in Pola, then part of Austria-Hungary (today part of Croatia). He stayed there from October 1904 through March 1905, when the Austrians discovered an espionage ring in the city and expelled all aliens. With Artifoni's help, he moved back to Trieste and began teaching English. He would remain in Trieste for most of the next ten years.

Later that year Nora gave birth to their first child, George. Joyce then managed to talk his brother, Stanislaus, into joining him in Trieste, and secured him a position teaching at the school. Ostensibly his reasons were for his company and offering his brother a much more interesting life than the simple clerking job he had back in Dublin, but in truth, he hoped to augment his family's meagre income with his brother's earnings. Stanislaus and Joyce had strained relations the entire time they lived together in Trieste, most arguments centering around Joyce's frivolity with money and drinking habits.

With chronic wanderlust much of his early life, Joyce became frustrated with life in Trieste and moved to Rome in late 1906, having secured a position working in a bank in the city. He intensely disliked Rome, however, and ended up moving back to Trieste in early 1907. His daughter Lucia was born in the summer of the same year.

Joyce returned to Dublin in the summer of 1909 with George, in order to visit his father, show off his son and work on getting Dubliners published. He visited Nora's family in Galway, meeting them for the first time (a successful visit, to his relief). When preparing to return to Trieste he decided to bring one of his sisters, Eva, back to Trieste with him in order to help Nora look after the home.

He would spend only a month back in Trieste before again heading back to Dublin, this time as a representative of some cinema owners in order to set up a regular cinema in Dublin. The venture was successful (but would quickly fall apart in his absence), and he returned to Trieste in January 1910 with another sister in tow, Eileen. While Eva became very homesick for Dublin and returned a few years later, Eileen spent the rest of her life on the continent, eventually marrying Czech bank cashier Frantisek Schaurek.

Joyce returned to Dublin briefly in the summer of 1912 during his years-long fight with his Dublin publisher, George Roberts, over the publication of Dubliners. His trip was once again fruitless, and on his return he wrote the poem "Gas from a Burner" as a thinly veiled invective of Roberts. It was his last trip to Ireland, and he never came closer to Dublin than London again, despite the many pleas of his father and invitations from fellow Irish writer William Butler Yeats.

Joyce came up with many money-making schemes during this period of his life, such as his attempt to become a cinema magnate back in Dublin, as well as an always-discussed but never-accomplished plan to import Irish tweeds into Trieste. His expert borrowing skills kept him from ever becoming completely destitute. His income was made up partially from his position at the Berlitz school, and partially from taking on private students. Many of his acquaintances through meeting these private students proved invaluable allies during his problems getting out of Austria-Hungary and into Switzerland in 1915.

One of his students in Trieste was Ettore Schmitz, better known by the pseudonym Italo Svevo; they met in 1907 and became lasting friends and mutual critics. Schmitz was a Jew, and became the primary model for Leopold Bloom; most of the details about the Jewish faith included in Ulysses came from Schmitz in response to Joyce's queries. Joyce would spend most of the rest of his life on the Continent. It was in Trieste that he first began to be plagued by major eye problems, which would result in over a dozen surgeries before his death.

In 1915 he moved to Zurich in order to avoid the complexities of living in Austria-Hungary during World War I, where he met one of his most enduring and important friends, Frank Budgen, whose opinion Joyce constantly sought through the writing of Ulysses and Finnegans Wake. It was also here where Ezra Pound brought him to the attention of English feminist and publisher Harriet Shaw Weaver, who would become Joyce's patron, providing him thousands of pounds over the next 25 years and relieving him of the burden of teaching in order to focus on his writing.

After the war he returned to Trieste briefly, but found the city had changed, and his relations with his brother (who had been interred in an Austrian prison camp for most of the war due to his pro-Italian politics) were more strained than ever. Joyce headed to Paris in 1920 at an invitation from Ezra Pound, supposedly for a week, but he ended up living there for the next twenty years.

1920-1941: Paris and Zurich
He travelled frequently to Switzerland for eye surgeries and treatments for Lucia, who suffered from schizophrenia. In Paris, Maria and Eugene Jolas nursed Joyce during his long years of writing Finnegans Wake. Were it not for their unwavering support (along with Harriet Shaw Weaver's unwavering financial support), there is a good possibility that his books might never have been finished or published.

In their now legendary literary magazine "transition," the Jolases published serially various sections of Joyce's novel under the title Work in Progress. He returned to Zurich to live after the Nazi occupation of France in 1939. He lived quietly in Zurich for the next two years. On 11 January 1941, he underwent surgery for a perforated ulcer. While at first improved, he relapsed the following day, and despite several transfusions, fell into a coma.

He awoke at 2 a.m. on 13 January 1941, and asked for a nurse to call his wife and son before losing consciousness again. They were still en route when he expired fifteen minutes later. He is buried in the Fluntern Cemetery within earshot of the lions in the Zurich zoo. His wife Nora, (whom he finally married in London in 1931) survived him by 10 years. She is buried now by his side, as is their son George, who passed away in 1976.

Major works

Joyce's Irish experiences are essential to his writings, and provide all of the settings for his fiction and much of their subject matter. The early volume of short stories, Dubliners, is a penetrating analysis of the stagnation and paralysis of Dublin society. The stories incorporate epiphanies, a word used particularly by Joyce, by which he meant a sudden consciousness of the "soul" of a thing. Although many of Joyce's works illustrate the rich tradition of the Catholic Church, his short story "Araby" displays his disaffection and loss of faith with the Church. The final and most famous story in the collection, "The Dead", was directed by John Huston as his last feature film, completed in 1987.

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is a nearly complete rewrite of the abandoned Stephen Hero novel, the original manuscript of which was partially destroyed in a fit of rage during an argument with Nora. A künstlerroman, or story of the development of an artist (a type of bildungsroman, or coming of age novel), it is largely autobiographical, showing the process of attaining maturity and self-consciousness by a gifted young man. The main character is Stephen Dedalus, Joyce's representation of himself. In this novel, some glimpses of Joyce's later techniques are evident, in the use of interior monologue and in the concern with the psychic rather than external reality. Joseph Strick directed a film of the book in 1977 starring Luke Johnston, Bosco Hogan, T.P. McKenna and John Gielgud.

Exiles and poetry
Despite early interest in the theatre, Joyce published only one play, Exiles, begun shortly after the outbreak of World War I in 1914 and published in 1918. A study of a husband and wife relationship, the play looks back to The Dead (the final story in Dubliners) and forward to Ulysses, which was begun around the time of the play's composition.

Joyce also published a number of books of poetry. His first mature published work was the satirical broadside "The Holy Office" (1904), in which he proclaimed himself to be the superior of many prominent members of the Celtic revival. His first full-length poetry collection Chamber Music (referring, Joyce explained, to the sound of urine hitting the side of a chamber pot) consisted of 36 short lyrics. This publication led to his inclusion in the Imagist Anthology, edited by Ezra Pound, who was a champion of Joyce's work. The other poetry Joyce published in his lifetime consists of "Gas From A Burner" (1912), Pomes Penyeach (1927) and "Ecce Puer", written in 1932 to mark the birth of his grandson and the recent death of his father. It was published in Collected Poems (1936).

In 1906, as he was completing work on Dubliners, Joyce considered adding another story featuring a Jewish advertising canvasser called Leopold Bloom under the title Ulysses. The story was not written, but the idea stayed with Joyce and, in 1914, he started work on a novel using both the title and basic premise, completing the writing in October, 1921. It was to be another three months before Joyce would stop working on the proofs of the book; he halted on the cusp of his self-imposed deadline, his 40th birthday (2 February 1922).

Thanks to Ezra Pound, serial publication of the novel in the magazine The Little Review began in 1918. This magazine was edited by Margaret Anderson and Jane Heap, with the backing of John Quinn, a New York attorney with an interest in contemporary experimental art and literature. Unfortunately, this serialisation ran into censorship problems in the United States, and in 1920 the editors were convicted of publishing obscenity, resulting in an end to the serial publication of the novel. The novel remained banned in the States until 1933.

At least partly because of this controversy, Joyce found it difficult to get a publisher to accept the book, but it was published in 1922 by Sylvia Beach from her well-known Left Bank bookshop, Shakespeare and Company. An English edition published the same year by Joyce's patron, Harriet Shaw Weaver, ran into further difficulties with the United States authorities, and 500 copies that were shipped to the States were seized and possibly destroyed.

The following year, John Rodker produced a print run of 500 more intended to replace the missing copies, but these were burned by English customs at Folkestone. A further consequence of the novel's ambiguous legal status as a banned book was that a number of 'bootleg' versions appeared, most notably a number of pirate versions from the publisher Samuel Roth. In 1928, a court injunction against Roth was obtained and he ceased publication.

1922 was a key year in the history of English-language literary modernism, with the appearance of both Ulysses and T. S. Eliot's poem, The Waste Land. In Ulysses, Joyce employs stream of consciousness, parody, jokes, and virtually every other literary technique to present his characters. The action of the novel, which takes place in a single day, 16 June 1904, sets the characters and incidents of the Odyssey of Homer in modern Dublin and represents Odysseus (Ulysses), Penelope and Telemachus in the characters of Leopold Bloom, his wife Molly Bloom and Stephen Dedalus, parodically contrasted with their lofty models.

The book explores various areas of Dublin life, dwelling on its squalor and monotony. Nevertheless, the book is also an affectionately detailed study of the city, and Joyce claimed that if Dublin were to be destroyed in some catastrophe it could be rebuilt, brick by brick, using his work as a model. In order to achieve this level of accuracy, Joyce used the 1904 edition of Thom's Directory— a work that listed the owners and/or tenants of every residential and commercial property in the city. He also bombarded friends still living there with requests for information and clarification.

The book consists of 18 chapters, each covering roughly one hour of the day, beginning around about 8 a.m. and ending sometime after 2 a.m. the following morning. Each of the 18 chapters of the novel employs its own literary style. Each chapter also refers to a specific episode in Homer's Odyssey and has a specific colour, art or science and bodily organ associated with it.

This combination of kaleidoscopic writing with an extreme formal, schematic structure represents one of the book's major contributions to the development of 20th century modernist literature. The use of classical mythology as a framework for his book and the near-obsessive focus on external detail in a book in which much of the significant action is happening inside the minds of the characters are others. Nevertheless, Joyce complained that, "I may have oversystematised Ulysses," and played down the mythic correspondences by eliminating the chapter titles that had been taken from Homer.

Joseph Strick directed a film of the book in 1967 starring Milo O'Shea, Barbara Jefford and Maurice Roëves. Sean Walsh directed another version released in 2004 starring Stephen Rea, Angeline Ball and Hugh O'Conor. Neither film really manages to convey the full scope of Joyce's masterpiece, however, and each only covers the text selectively. It is debatable whether such an ambitious and complex work could ever be satifactorily filmed.

Finnegans Wake
Having completed work on Ulysses, Joyce felt he had completed his life's work but soon was at work on an even more ambitious work. On 10 March 1923 he began work on a text that was to be known, first, as Work in Progress and later Finnegans Wake. By 1926 he had completed the first two parts of the book. In that year, he met Eugene and Maria Jolas who offered to serialise the book in their magazine transition. For the next few years, Joyce worked rapidly on the new book, but in the 1930s, progress slowed considerably. This was due to a number of factors, including the death of his father in 1931, concern over the mental health of his daughter Lucia and his own health problems, including failing eyesight.

Much of the work was done with the assistance of younger admirers, including Samuel Beckett. For some years, Joyce nursed the eccentric plan of turning over the book to his friend James Stephens to complete, on the grounds that Stephens was born in the same hospital as Joyce exactly one week later, and shared the first name of both Joyce and of Joyce's fictional alter-ego (this is one example of Joyce's numerous superstitions).

Reaction to the early sections that appeared in transition was mixed, including negative comment from early supporters of Joyce's work, such as Pound and the author's brother Stanislaus Joyce. In order to counteract this hostile reception, a book of essays by supporters of the new work, including Beckett, William Carlos Williams and others was organised and published in 1929 under the title Our Exagmination Round His Factification for Incamination of Work in Progress. At his 47th birthday party at the Jolases' home, Joyce revealed the final title of the work and Finnegans Wake was published in book form on 4 May 1939.

Joyce's method of stream of consciousness, literary allusions and free dream associations was pushed to the limit in Finnegans Wake, which abandoned all conventions of plot and character construction and is written in a peculiar and obscure language, based mainly on complex multi-level puns. This approach is similar to, but far more extensive than that used by Lewis Carroll in "Jabberwocky". If Ulysses is a day in the life of a city, the Wake is a night and partakes of the logic of dreams. This has led many readers and critics to apply Joyce's oft-quoted description in the Wake of Ulysses as his usylessly unreadable Blue Book of Eccles to the Wake itself. However, readers have been able to reach a consensus about the central cast of characters and general plot.

Much of the wordplay in the book stems from the use of multilingual puns which draw on a wide range of languages. The role played by Beckett and other assistants included collating words from these languages on cards for Joyce to use and, as Joyce's eyesight worsened, of writing the text from the author's dictation.

The view of history propounded in this text is very strongly influenced by Giambattista Vico, and the metaphysics of Giordano Bruno of Nola are important to the interplay of the "characters". Vico propounded a cyclical view of history, in which civilisation rose from chaos, passed through theocratic, aristocratic, and democratic phases, and then lapsed back into chaos. The most obvious example of the influence of Vico's cyclical theory of history is to be found in the opening and closing sentences of the book.

Finnegans Wake opens with the words 'riverrun, past Eve and Adam's, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.' (with a pun on Vico in 'vicus') and ends 'A way a lone a last a loved a long the'. In other words, the first sentence starts on the last page and the last sentence on the first, turning the book into one great cycle. Indeed, Joyce said that the ideal reader of the Wake would suffer from ideal insomnia and, on completing the book, would turn to page one and start again, and so on in an endless cycle of reading.

Joyce's legacy
Joyce's work has been subject to intense scrutiny by scholars of all types. He has also been an important influence on writers and scholars as diverse as Samuel Beckett, Jorge Luis Borges, Flann O'Brien, Máirtín Ó Cadhain, Salman Rushdie, Thomas Pynchon, William Burroughs and Joseph Campbell.

Joyce's influence is also evident in fields other than literature. The phrase "Three Quarks for Muster Mark" in Joyce's Finnegans Wake is often called the source of the physicists' word "quark", the name of one of the main kinds of elementary particles, proposed by the physicist Murray Gell-Mann. (James Gleick's book Genius notes that Gell-Mann may have found the Joycean antecedent after the fact; as Gleick observes, physicists have pronounced quark to rhyme with cork and not with Mark. It may be noted, however, against Gleick's speculation, that the discoverers of quarks were Americans who would have pronounced quark in the American, not the Irish accent.)

The French philosopher Jacques Derrida has written a book on the use of language in Ulysses, and the American philosopher Donald Davidson has written similarly on Finnegans Wake in comparison with Lewis Carroll. Vladimir Nabokov esteemed Ulysses greatly, listing it with Franz Kafka's "The Metamorphosis" as one of the 20th century's greatest prose works. However, Nabokov was less than thrilled with Finnegans Wake (see Strong Opinions, The Annotated Lolita or Pale Fire), an attitude which Jorge Luis Borges shared.

Finnegans Wake is a recurring theme in Tom Robbins's novel Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates. In that novel, it is the favourite discussion topic of the Bangkok-based "C.R.A.F.T. Club" (Can't Remember A Fucking Thing). The protagonist, a CIA agent named Switters, contemplates writing a thesis about it. The life of Joyce is celebrated annually on June 16, Bloomsday, in Dublin and in an increasing number of cities worldwide.

Each year in Dedham, Massachusetts, USA literary-minded runners hold the James Joyce Ramble, a 10K Road Race with each mile dedicated to a different work by Joyce. With professional actors in period garb lining the streets and reading from his books as the athletes run by, it is billed as the only theatrical performance where the performers stand still and the audience does the moving. The James Joyce Ramble hosts three thousand runners, is held on the last Sunday in April each year and is dedicated to literary freedom.


"There is no heresy or no philosophy which is so abhorrent to the church as a human being."

'Broken heart. A pump after all, pumping thousands of gallons of blood every day. One fine day it gets bunged up and there you are.... Old rusty pumps: damn the thing else. The resurrection and the life. Once you are dead you are dead."

"Irish novelist and poet, whose psychological perceptions and innovative literary techniques make him one of the most influential writers of the 20th century."

"There is no heresy or no philosophy which is so abhorrent to the church as a human being."

"Broken heart. A pump after all, pumping thousands of gallons of blood every day. One fine day it gets bunged up and there you are.... Old rusty pumps: damn the thing else. The resurrection and the life. Once you are dead you are dead."

"He comes into the world God knows how, walks on the water, gets out of his grave and goes up off the Hill of Howth. What drivel is this?"

"And Jesus was a Jew too. Your god. He was a Jew like me. And so was his father."

"I confess that I do not see what good it does to fulminate against the English tyranny while the Roman tyranny occupies the palace of the soul."

The information on which this page is based has been drawn from research on the Internet. For example, much use has been made of, to whom we are greatly indebted. Since the information recording process at Wikipedia is prone to changes in the data, please check at Wikipedia for current information. If you find something on this page to be in error, please contact us.
The Talk Of Lawrence