James Joyce (1882-1941)

James Joyce was born on 2 February, 1882 in a well-to-do family in a small town not far from Dublin. His father, John Joyce, was well-educated and very musical. James inherited his father’s talent. He had got a good ear for music and a pleasant voice. If John Joyce had paid attention to his son’s abilities, James Joyce might have become a talented singer. His bad eyesight caused him much suffering. He had undergone surgery, enduring twelve surgical operations on his eyes. At the end of his life Joyce was almost blind.

It was his father who taught James to respect the heroic past of Ireland. It was his aunt who had made a true catholic of him. Joyce was educated in Dublin and afterwards in Pans where he studied foreign languages and French Literature.

Joyce spent most of his adult life in Europe, mainly in France, Italy and Switzerland. He knew twenty-two languages. Russian was among them.

James Joyce devoted himself to literature. He worked thoroughly, corrected his manuscripts attentively and didn’t allow the publishers to alter his creations. His first great book, “Dubliners” (1905) is a collection of stories, each dealing with life in Dublin. The stories portray unhappy and cheerless people of Dublin. The idea of hopelessness passes through all of them as a kind of leitmotiv. The stories are written in a frank manner, and the author reveals his deep interest in psychological matters. There are fifteen stories in the collection. The last story, “The Dead”, is the longest one. This is a story about Gabriel Conroy, a prosperous teacher and talented journalist who is shocked out of his self-satisfaction by discovering his wife’s love for a dead man, Michael Furey, whom she knew many years before. Gabriel Conroy is a self-confident pompous journalist, the “soul” of a local society, who delivers his speeches brilliantly and, moreover, who is fond of his wife Gretta: “A wave of yet more tender joy escaped from his heart and went coursing in warm flood along his arteries. Like the tender fire of stars moments of their life together, that no one knew of or would ever know of, broke upon and illumined his memory. He longed to recall to her those moments, to make her forget the years of their dull existence together and remember only their moments of ecstasy”.

Once Gabriel notices that Gretta is thinking about something, and he is extremely surprised when he realizes that the reason of her depression is the song, “The Lass of Aughrim”. He “stood stock-still for a moment in astonishment”. Gretta tells him that the song makes her cry, because she is thinking about a person who used to sing that song when she lived with her grandmother.

The subject-matter of the story lies in the change of Gabriel’s attitude to his wife’s reminiscences of the past. Gradually, step by step, his light irony turns into “dull anger”, and then “a vague terror seized Gabriel”. After he has found out that Michael Furey has been already dead, he “felt humiliated by the failure of his irony and by the evocation of this figure from the dead… A shameful consciousness of his own person assailed him. He saw himself as a ludicrous figure, … a nervous, well-meaning sentimentalist, orating to vulgarians and idealizing his own clownish lusts, the pitiable fatuous fellow he had caught a glimpse of in the mirror.” It is the climax of the story. “Instinctively he turned his back more to the light lest she might see the shame that burned upon his forehead”. It is the most important moment, when all his illusions are ruined, and Gabriel experiences a new, fresh feeling of sympathy, understanding and tenderness towards his wife: “Generous tears filled Gabriel’s eyes. He had never felt like that himself towards any woman, but he knew that such a feeling must be love.”

The publication of “Dubliners” was held up for years, because both Irish and English publishers had changed words and sentences without Joyce’s permission. He could publish his book only in 1914.

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” appeared in 1916. This story presents Joyce himself as a young man in the character of his hero, Stephen Dedalus, who is formed by the powerful forces of Irish national, political and religious feelings, and shows how he gradually gets rid of the influence of these forces to follow his own fate.

James Joyce introduced a new literary method into English Literature. In his two great master novels, “Ulysses” (1922) and “Finnegan’s Wake” (1939), Joyce broke completely with traditions of the Victorian novel. He greatly influenced the way English novels were written, with his use of unusual and invented words and different styles of writing, such as “Stream of Consciousness” — expressing thoughts and feelings as they pass through the mind. This method is revealed in “Ulysses” in which there are no links with objective reality. The plot of the book unfolds on a single day in 1904 in the life of three people: an Irish Jew, his wife and Stephen Dedalus (the hero of “A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man”). But his method makes this book too difficult to understand.

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