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Modern World Literature

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Focus on James Joyce

James JoyceNovelist and short-story writer. He was born in Dublin on 2 February 1882, the first child of a middle-class family that was already in difficulties owing to the egotism and fecklessness of the Cork-born father, who was, in the words of his sharp-tongued first-born, ‘a praiser of his own past’. Though Joyce was born in the fashionable Brighton Square, Rathgar, and sent as a boarder (at ‘HALF PAST SIX’) to CLONGOWES WOOD, his family went through as many as 16 changes of address in the Dublin area in 20 years, during which they declined into abject poverty. In spite of this Joyce managed to graduate from University College Dublin in 1902 and began to fulfil his literary destiny, which he memorably described in early life as ‘to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race’, using the means of ‘SILENCE, EXILE AND CUNNING’.

Joyce's first published prose work, DUBLINERS (1914), a collection of stories that he set in the Irish capital (the accounts of Dublin that it contains are essentially autobiographical), is written on the theme of bourgeois, post-Parnellite paralysis. More obvious autobiography is to be found in A PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A YOUNG MAN (1916). By the time of its publication Joyce had been a far-from-silent exile for 12 years and, though there were visits home, the rest of his life was spent out of Ireland - in Paris, Trieste and Zürich - with his mistress Nora BARNACLE, the chambermaid from Galway whom he finally married in 1931 (see GREENE, GRETTA).

ULYSSES (1922), Joyce's greatest work, a Homeric account of a single day's life in Dublin, 16 June 1904 (the day of his first date with Nora), has continued to be the subject of great critical and textual scrutiny. His last book, FINNEGANS WAKE, was not completed until two years before his death, though he had begun work on it as early as 1922. Joyce died - of a perforated ulcer - in Zürich on 13 January 1941 and was buried in Fluntern cemetery. He also published two books of lyrical poetry, Chamber Music (1907) and Pomes Penyeach (1927), and his play Exiles had its first performance in Munich in 1918

From CREDO James Joyce: Brewer's Dictionary of Irish Phrase and Fable.

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