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"This ought to keep the professors busy for a hundred years!"
— James Joyce, after publishing Finnegan's Wake. Damn it all to hell, the bastard was right.
James Joyce (Irish, 1882-1941), likely the most influential writer of the 20th century. If you think that's a bit hyperbolic, in 1998, Modern Library ranked Ulysses No. 1, and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man No. 3, on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century.To those seeking a simple description of Joyce's work, "modernist" is most often applied, though Joyce more defined the term than followed it. Although he lived most of his adult life away from Ireland, his work is almost entirely Irish in tone, manner and location.Excepting various short stories and poems, and a play called Exiles that virtually no one reads, Joyce's CV is four works long, yet all of them are considered highly important works and present in many reading lists of college literature:
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916): A mostly autobiographical, coming-of-age story. It occasionally veers into Ulysses-like stream of consciousness, but to students who read (or try to read) Ulysses first, it's a surprisingly catchy page-turner, maybe even a "conventional" novel. (That rumble you hear is Joyce spinning in his grave.)
Ulysses (1922): Love It or Hate It, Ulysses is a defining novel of the 20th century. The plot? Leopold Bloom and his wife and some friends have experiences on 16 June 1904, known now as "Bloomsday". Simple, right? Ha. It's dense, delphic, hydra-headed, with multiple story lines mixed together like a bowl of spaghetti. Even Joyce himself later admitted he may have overcooked it. Nonetheless, to a determined student of literature, it can be a hugely rewarding undertaking.
Finnegan's Wake (1939): Whereas Ulysses broke some rules and bent the rest, Finnegans Wake absolutely obliterated every single one. We would try to provide a useful description, but we'll let Mr. Joyce himself try to make the case:
And that was how the skirtmisshes began. But the dour handworded her grace in dootch nossow: Shut! So her grace o'malice kidsnapped up the jiminy Tristopher and into the shandy westerness she rain, rain, rain.
If our primary article on the book cannot answer your questions, maybe Finnegan's Wake will?
Real world wearer of an Eyepatch of Power. He died and was buried in Zürich, Switzerland. As of January 1st 2012 his work is in the public domain worldwide.note During the 80s, 90s and 00s, the Joyce estate had been exercising ever stricter control over Joyce's copyright, to the extent that even people writing scholarly books were being refused permission to quote from the work if the estate didn't like anything about them - it was even reported that one academic was refused permission to quote because Joyce's literary executor didn't like the name of the university football team. Now that the work is in the public domain, it's expected that Joyce studies will see a revival, and many theatrical adaptations of his work have already been produced. Film, TV and new media versions will likely follow.
The City: Joyce claimed that if it was destroyed you could rebuild Dublin from the detail in Ulysses.
Beige Prose: Dropped in, as if from nowhere, late in Ulysses.
Crapsack World: Deconstructed. Joyce depicts early 20th century Dublin as a pretty crappy place, but he also takes pains to show you reasons why that's so, even if his own characters aren't always aware of them.
Creator Provincialism: All of Joyce's work is set in Dublin or the surrounding area, though he spent most of his adult life on the Continent.
Deconstruction: Novels as an entire art form and English as a language, starting small with Portrait of an Artist then going for broke with Finnegans Wake.
Defictionalization: in Ulysses, all the locations are real, some still exist, and real-life Dubliners crop up as characters with their real names.
Reset Button: Again, Wake could be the trope namer. Check out the first and last "sentences".
Rule of Symbolism: Used in Portrait, almost overdone in Ulysses, worn to a nub in Wake.
Shout-Out: At some point, to almost every major novelist and poet in the history of western literature.
Spiritual Sequel: Read his four major works in their published order. Each expands upon the themes of the last, each ups the ambition of the style, and the character of Stephen Dedalus can be seen taking shape in Joyce's mind in the pages of Dubliners.
Trope Namer: One of the countless throwaway words in Wake, "quark", is used in particle physics. Joseph Campbell said he found the word "monomyth" in Wake too