"When I die Dublin will be written in my heart."

James Joyce was born on February 2nd1882 in the suburb of Rathgar, Dublin; he died on January 13th,1941, in Zürich, and was buried there. These bare facts tell us a great dealabout Joyce. He was born and grew up in the nineteenth century, in a period whenIreland was under the political and social control of England, and under theeven firmer moral control of the Catholic Church. But he died in Europe, duringthe Second World War, in a country that could give him shelter preciselybecause it was neutral. That Ireland was also neutral in that war was by thenof no consequence to him; his final visit to his native country was in 1912. Heflew by those nets of nationhood.

James Joyce was the first surviving child of JohnJoyce and Mary Jane Murray. When he was born in 1882, the family was reasonablywell-to-do, John Joyce holding a position as collector of rates. James Joycewas educated first at the Jesuit boarding school, Clongowes Wood College, from1888 to 1891. When he was nine years old, his father was pensioned off from hisposition, and the Joyces became substantially poorer. Eventually, after a spellwith the Christian Brothers, James went in 1893, along with his nearest brotherStanislaus, to the Jesuit school, Belvedere College in Dublin; their educationwas free. In 1898 he began his studies in modern languages at UniversityCollege, Dublin. It was here that he began writing, essays, plays andpoems.  After graduating in 1902, heinitially enrolled as a medical student, but shortly thereafter travelled toParis, working from hand to mouth, writing and teaching. In 1903 he returned toDublin to attend his mother on her death-bed; she died in August, 1903, at theage of forty-four. 

Early in 1904, Joyce began writing Stephen Herowhich would eventually, over many years, become A Portrait of the Artist asa Young Man. At the same time, he pursued briefly the possibility of asinging career. He had an excellent tenor voice, and was encouraged by JohnMcCormack, then the upcoming Irish tenor. He took professional singing lessons,and entered the Feis Ceoil, the competitive Festival of Music, for 1904, thecompetition which McCormack had won in 1903. Joyce did not complete thecompetition, perhaps because he could not sight read the final competitive piece.He was nonetheless awarded the bronze medal. Thereafter, he and McCormack keptin touch and later Joyce presented him with copies of his novels.

Joyce met his great love, Nora Barnacle, in June1904 and myth has it that their first sexual encounter took place on June 16th,a date sanctified in Ulysses, and ever afterwards in Irish culturalhistory as Bloomsday. Soon afterwards, he wrote the first of the stories thatwould become Dubliners; ‘The Sisters’ was published in the IrishHomestead in July, 1904. In September, 1904 Joyce began living in theMartello Tower in Sandycove that would later figure in Ulysses, butat the same time he was deepening his relationship with Nora. In October, 1904they left Dublin together, unmarried, but permanently wedded; James Joyce wastwenty-two years old, Nora Barnacle twenty.

They settled in Trieste, where Joyce worked as anEnglish teacher. Joyce’s brother Stanislaus joined them. Their children Giorgioand Lucia were born there. It was during this period that Joyce completed Dublinersand A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, together with theplay, Exiles and a large part of Ulysses. Joyce was alwaysbeset by publishing difficulties; his work challenged orthodoxy, and printersin particular objected to his work, being legally responsible as they were forany charge of indecency against it. In 1912, Joyce paid his last visit toDublin. In 1914, Dubliners was, after many setbacks, published by GrantRichards, and in the same year the first chapters of Portrait werepublished in The Egoist under the editorship of Harriet Shaw Weaver,Ezra Pound being a significant influence here. [Its full publication came underan American imprint in December 1916, soon followed by an English edition in1917.]

In 1915, the Joyces were still in Trieste, amidstthe turmoil of the First World War. Stanislaus Joyce was interned there, butJames Joyce and his family fled to Zürich. Around this time Joyce began toconcentrate on the ongoing writing of Ulysses, episodes of which werepublished from early in 1918 in The Little Review.  In 1919 the family returned to Trieste, butin 1920 Pound persuaded Joyce to settle in Paris. Here he struck up hisconnection with Sylvia Beach of the bookshop Shakespeare and Co.; Beach it waswho brought out the first edition, in Paris, of Ulysses, on Joyce’sbirthday, February 2nd, 1922. Attempts to export this edition toEngland ended in the books being impounded by customs and destroyed, in 1923.The Odyssey Press published an English language edition in 1932. The fullBritish edition did not appear until 1936, published by John Lane. 

Joyce began his final great work, Finnegan’sWake, in 1922, hard on the heels of the first publication of UlyssesFinnegan’s Wake would eventually bepublished in 1939. In 1931, James Joyce and Nora Barnacle married, in partbecause of Joyce’s concerns about his estate. During this period, theirdaughter Lucia was diagnosed as schizophrenic (however that diagnosis may beseen now), and their son Giorgio struggled to make his way as a professionalsinger. Both seem to have suffered from the peripatetic life-in-exile of theirparents. At the outbreak of the Second World War, living in a France undersevere threat, Joyce and his family were welcomed back to Zürich, althoughLucia was left behind in hospital in France. Joyce was already ill, and died onJanuary 13th, 1941, from a perforated ulcer. He is buried in thecity that always gave him refuge.

Sally Minogue 


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