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Irish Writers : A Portrait

Guest Author - Mary Ellen Sweeney

The Irish have a way with words, whether it be poems, songs, or stories, and one of the best story tellers was James Joyce.

James Augustine Aloysius Joyce, was Born on February 2, 1882 in Dublin, Ireland. He was the oldest of ten children, and grew up in a poor Roman Catholic house, where his father was a rates collector.

Educated at a Roman Catholic school as well as at home. Joyce attended University College Dublin, where he studied philosophy and language. He earned his degree in Latin from College in 1902. While at college, Joyce renounced the Roman Catholic faith.

When he was still an undergraduate, his long review of Ibsen's last play was published in the "Fortnightly Review." At this time he also began writing his poems which were later collected in "Chamber Music," published in 1907, which consists of 36 love poems that reflect the influence of the lyricists of England's Elizabethan Age (mid- and late 1500s) and of the English lyric poets of the 1890s

In 1904 he and his companion, Nora Barnacle, left Ireland for good. They lived in Trieste, Italy; Paris, France; and Zurich, Switzerland. His mother died in 1905, and his father in 1931. Joyce had two children, a son was born in 1905, and a daughter in 1918, but he did not marry until 1932. Joyce worked as a language instructor and received writing grants from patrons. During much of his adult life Joyce suffered from a series of severe eye problems that eventually led to near blindness.

Joyce set most of his works in 20th-century Dublin. Having grown up there and then, he was intimately associated with the restrictions of the time. He was, and still is, thought by many to be a pioneer, because of his way with the language and manner of expression. Joyce was blatant with his use of sexual situations in his writing, and this made his work highly controversial. In fact, his books were banned in Ireland! Joyce once remarked that "the extraordinary is the province of journalists."

His most famous work, "Ulysses" began appearing in serial form in the "Little Review" in 1918, but halted in 1920 following prosecution. It reappeared in book form in 1922 in Paris, in only 1,000 copies, and was followed by an English edition of 2,000 copies. The first unlimited edition in 1924, in Paris, but not until 1934 in America, and 1937 in Britain.

Joyce's first prose work, "Dubliners," 1914, is a book of 15 short stories and sketches that revolve around the ancient city of Dublin.

Joyce wrote "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" in 1916 and "Ulysses" in 1922. Stevin Daedalus, the main character in "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man," was through by many to be the semi-autobiographical version of Joyce himself. Joyce certainly had plenty of trouble publishing "Portrait" in Ireland, and it would've gone unseen if not for Harriet Shaw Weaver arranging for it to be published in the United States.

Joyce attained international fame with the 1922 publication of "Ulysses," which many people consider one of the greatest and original books ever written. Like "Portrait" one of the main characters is named Stephen Daedalus, but the two are not the same.

"Finnegans Wake" - In 1939, Joyce worked on the book, which he first called "Work in Progress," for more than 17 years. He wrote the four-part novel in the form of an interrupted series of dreams during one night in the life of the character Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker.

The story of "Finnegans Wake" plays off an Irish comic ballad called "Finnegan's Wake," about a rural laborer seemingly killed in a fall but revived by spilled whiskey during his wake. Joyce carried his linguistic experimentation to its furthest point in "Finnegans Wake," in part by combining English words with parts of words from various other languages.

Joyce's other publications include two collections of verse, "Pomes Pennyeach" (1927) and "Collected Poems" (1936). "Stephen Hero," which was not published until 1944, was an early version of "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man." A volume titled James Joyce's "Letters to Sylvia Beach," 1921-1940 was published in 1987.


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Content copyright © 2014 by Mary Ellen Sweeney. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Mary Ellen Sweeney. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Bee Smith for details.

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