James Joyce was born on February 2, 1882, into a middle-class family living in Dublin, Ireland. He was the oldest of ten surviving children. When he was five years old he was bitten by a dog and had an intense if understandable fear of them after that. At this time his aunt also vividly described how God used bolts of lightning to punish wicked boys and he developed an intense if understandable fear of them too.
In 1888 James started his formal education at a Jesuit elementary school. In 1893 his father declared bankruptcy and then drank the family into greater poverty. After learning at home and with the Christian Brothers for a short time, James was given the chance to study with the Jesuits again at their high school in Dublin. Though Thomas Aquinas (a Dominican) remained dear to him, he broke with the Catholic Church at the age of 16.
While finished with the Church, James nonetheless continued his education studying languages and philosophy at the Jesuit university in Dublin (now University College Dublin). While studying there he also wrote plays and had several articles published. He graduated in 1902.
For the next two years, James worked little, wrote some, and drank a lot. He was home when his mother was dying of cancer. Because of his break with the Church, his mother feared his eternal damnation. She badly wanted to see him reconciled before she died, but didn't.
In 1904 James met Nora Barnacle. Their first date took place on June 16, 1904, and that became the single day featured in James' great work Ulysses. Later that year James and Nora left together for the continent in a self-imposed exile as their creative response to Ireland's cultural paralysis.
For the next ten years the couple lived mostly in Trieste which, at that time, was part of the Austrian Empire. James drank a lot, spent money freely, wrote some, and worked little. He barely supported his family (with two children by 1907) by teaching English, working at a bank, and opening Ireland's first cinema back in Dublin. He struggled for years to get Dubliners, his collection of short stories, published. Between 1905 and 1914 he submitted the manuscript 18 times to 15 different publishers before finally seeing it printed.
James and family moved to Zurich in 1914 and lived there for the remainder of the War of 1914. In Zurich he met the wealthy magazine editor and progressive political activist Harriet Weaver. She published his book, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, in serial form (1914-1915) in her London literary magazine The Egoist. When she couldn't find a publisher in England who would print it as a book, she started her own Egoist Press and published it in 1917. Harriet's literary and financial support allowed James, at long last, to abandon his various schemes for making money and to focus on writing. In Zurich he wrote Exiles (a play) and made significant progress on Ulysses.
In 1918 he returned to Trieste but, after two years, moved to Paris. Ongoing financial support from Harriet allowed him to concentrate on completing Ulysses. He had wanted to finish it by his 40th birthday (February 1922) and just managed to do so. The Little Review, a progressive magazine published in Greenwich Village, New York City, serialized Ulysses from 1918 until 1921 when the Post Office refused to mail any more issues of the magazine because they found Ulysses obscene. A judge later agreed.
In 1919 the American Sylvia Beach opened a bookstore in Paris called Shakespeare and Company. There she sold books, loaned books, and provided a haven for writers of books including James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald, and Gertrude Stein. When British and American authorities banned Ulysses, she published it. When James was able to sign with another publisher and did, she suffered serious financial losses for her kindness and boldness in printing it first. For some reason the German army closed Sylvia's bookstore after they occupied Paris in 1940 and imprisoned her for six months. Once the Germans left she returned to Paris and later published her memories of Paris in the 1920s and 30s in a book named after her store.
While living in Paris, James' glaucoma worsened and he underwent several surgeries to avoid blindness. Following the death of his eye doctor in Paris, he started working with physicians in Switzerland. On trips there he took with him his daughter Lucia who was treated for mental illness by Carl Jung. While James never imagined himself mentally ill, Carl thought he was schizophrenic after reading Ulysses.
After finishing his work on Ulysses, James let a year pass before writing another word. Finally, in March 1923, he started his next novel. By 1926 he had finished the first two parts of what would become Finnegan's Wake. Sections of it were first published serially in the Parisian literary magazine transitions (primarily distributed by Sylvia Beach) and in the transatlantic review. After working on the whole book for 17 years, James finally saw it published in May 1939.
James and family returned to Zurich in 1940 after the German army occupied Paris. He died there on January 13, 1941, two days after undergoing surgery for an ulcer, and was buried there.
Copyright © 2013 by Steven Farsaci. All rights reserved.