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Creator / James Joyce

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Well hello there. I wrote you a letter.

"If I gave it all up immediately, I'd lose my immortality. I've put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries, arguing over what I meant, and that's the only way of insuring one's immortality."
James Joyce, replying to a request for a plan of Ulysses. Damn it all to hell, the bastard was right.

James Augustine Aloysius Joyce (2 February 1882 – 13 January 1941) was an Irish writer, 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 centurynote . 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. It was said, and Joyce is probably the pre-eminent example, that the first thing all great Irish writers did was leave Ireland. Joyce's own Author Avatar Stephen Daedalus famously says in Portrait that "Ireland is the old sow that eats her own farrow" - given how many of Joyce and his contemporaries would be censored, vilified and tried for obscenity by conservative Irish authorities, this was understandable. (Though contrary to popular legend, Ulysses was never officially censored in Ireland - thanks to abuse of a customs loophole, there was never even an attempt to sell it until the 1960s.)

Excepting a few articles, a handful of 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:

  • Dubliners (1914): a collection of short stories about some Dubliners, the final story The Dead was made into a well-regarded film by John Huston.
  • A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916): A sort-of 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.) It was in fact a completely revised version of his first attempt at a novel, Stephen Hero, which was much more conventional and which he never finished.
  • Ulysses (1922): 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", in which Bloom meets Stephen, the protagonist of Joyce's previous novel, and helps him out slightly. 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.
  • Finnegans 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 Finnegans 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—except in the US. And even there, only Finnegans Wake is still under copyright, specifically until 2035.note note 

Joyce's works contain examples of:

  • Anti-Hero: Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus.
  • 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. As he explained to Arthur Power:
    James Joyce: For myself, I always write about Dublin because if I can get to the heart of Dublin I can get to the heart of all the cities in the world. In the particular is contained the universal.
  • Culturally Religious: Joyce's religious views are... complicated. He was baptized and educated by Jesuits at Belvedere College. However this was largely on account of his mother's influence. His father was a Republican who supported Parnell (the Protestant politician who came very close to uniting the divide between Protestants and Catholics) and Joyce himself harbored those same sympathies. On the one hand, he lost his faith as a young man and dramatized his break from the Church in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man ("non serviam"). When he died, a Catholic priest offered to give him a religious funeral but his wife Nora honoured his intentions and turned the offer down ("I couldn't do that to him!"). On the other hand, Joyce qualified his "non serviam" with "I will not serve that which I no longer believe, whether it call itself my home, my fatherland or my church", and that the non-serviam will always be balanced by Stephen's "I am ... [a] servant too" and the "yes" of Molly Bloom's final soliloquy in Ulysses. In addition, an interview with Eileen Joyce Schaurek, his sister, suggested that James Joyce's apostasy was merely an act to shock people and to cover up what he really was like. Whatever his religious views are, Joyce was still drawn to the Church's aesthetics and the Catholic faith deeply influenced his works.
  • Cunning Linguist: Joyce had a genius for learning new languages. At the end of his life, he knew English, Irish, Italian, French, German, Latin, Greek and Hebrew. In his youth, he was able to write a fan letter to Henrik Ibsen in Norwegian and he was able to read Russian authors in the original language. His fluency of course varied but few modern authors (and fewer people) had that facility with language, which he took to the extent of multilingual puns in Finnegans Wake.
  • 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.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness:
    • The remaining bits of Stephen Hero, Joyce's unfinished first draft of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, read like a much more conventional novel than the kind of thing he later got famous for.
    • If one comes to Joyce from reading Ulysses or Finnegans Wake, Dubliners can be surprising for its simplicity, its elegance, its realism and also its seriousness. Except for one or two stories, they are lacking in the humour and low-spirited hijinks his famous novels are peppered with, and many of them are bleak and serious, written under the influence of Anton Chekhov and Henrik Ibsen.
  • Gentile Jew-Chaser: Joyce (and Stephen Dedalus, Bloom and HCE by extension) had a bit of a fascination with the "Oriental mystique" of Jewish women.
  • Oireland:
  • The One Who Made It Out: Dubliners and A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man deals with the yearning of young Irish people trapped in an Epiphanic Prison hoping to be different, doing different but never moving an inch. Joyce's Ulysses and also Finnegans Wake reverses this somewhat, in that it deals with characters who are content with staying back in Ireland and never moving out and who are interesting for having made that choice. Of course, at that time, Joyce himself had moved out of Ireland and settled in Continental Europe.
  • Spiritual Successor: 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.
  • Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Going by their personal letters, Joyce apparently saw himself in a similar situation with Nora.
  • Viewers Are Geniuses: Joyce assumes his readers possess quite a bit of intuitive insight. His justification was clear:
    James Joyce: One great part of every human existence is passed in a state which cannot be rendered sensible by the use of wideawake language, cutanddry grammar and goahead plot.
  • Wise Beyond Their Years: In 1902 William Butler Yeats reached out to Joyce, who'd barely published anything at all, to offer some tips. The 20-year-old Joyce assumed Yeats, at the time considered the greatest living poet in Ireland, had come to ask him for help and declared "I have met you too late. You are too old."

Works by other authors in which Joyce is a character, or in which his work is referenced:

  • Masks Of The Illuminati: he and Albert Einstein are the protagonists, starting out having met by chance in a Zurich beer garden shortly before the outbreak of World War I before getting caught up in someone else's Gambit Pileup, leading to him having an illumination which leads to him writing Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and his successive works.
  • Nora: A Biopic about the early years of the relationship between James Joyce and his partner and eventual wife Nora Barnacle.
  • Shortcut to Happiness: Joyce is a member of the Jury of the Damned sitting in judgement on Jabez Stone.