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James Joyce

James Augustine Aloysius Joyce (1882 – 1941) is one of Ireland’s most influential and celebrated writers. His most famous work is Ulysses (1922), which follows the movements of Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus throughout Dublin on a single day, 16 June 1904. Some of Joyce’s other major works include the short story collection Dubliners (1914), the play Exiles (1918), the collection of poetry Chamber Music (1907) and Pomes Penyeach (1927), and novels A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916) and Finnegans Wake (1939).

Joyce was born in Dublin on 2 February 1882 at 41 Brighton Square, Rathgar, a suburb south of Dublin. Joyce’s father was John Stanislaus Joyce and his mother was Mary Jane “May” (née Murray). He was the eldest of ten children.

He attended school in Clongowes Wood College and Belvedere College (just up the road from the Centre) before going on to University College, then located on St Stephen’s Green, where he studied modern languages.

After graduating from university, Joyce went to Paris, ostensibly to study medicine, and was recalled to Dublin in April 1903 because of the illness and subsequent death of his mother. He stayed in Ireland until 1904. In June of that year he met Nora Barnacle, the Galway woman who was to become his partner and later his wife. Their first date was on 16 June 1904, a date that Joyce would memorialise as the setting of Ulysses and is now popularly known as “Bloomsday”. 

In August 1904, the first of Joyce’s short stories was published in the Irish Homestead magazine, followed by two others, but in October Joyce and Nora left Ireland, going first to Pola (now Pula, Croatia) where Joyce got a job teaching English at a Berlitz school. After he left Ireland in 1904, Joyce only made three return visits. After his last visit in 1912, he never returned to Ireland.

James Joyce in the Dublin garden of
Constantine Curran in 1904

James Joyce photographed with
his Grandson Stephen in 1934

1914 proved a crucial year for Joyce. With Ezra Pound’s assistance, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Joyce’s first novel, began to appear in serial form in Harriet Weaver’s Egoist magazine in London. His collection of short stories, Dubliners, on which he had been working since 1904, was finally published, and he also wrote his only play, Exiles. It was after these successes that Joyce began to think seriously about writing the novel he had been formulating since 1907: Ulysses.

With the start of the First World War, Joyce and Nora, along with their two children, Giorgio and Lucia, were forced to leave Trieste and arrived in Zurich where they lived for the duration of the war. It was during this time that Joyce worked on Ulysses and included many characteristics of those around him in the characters of the book. Though Joyce wanted to settle in Trieste again after the war, Ezra Pound persuaded him to come to Paris for a while, and Joyce stayed there for the next twenty years.

It was in Paris that Joyce met Sylvia Beach, an American expatriate who helped him to publish Ulysses for the first time in 1922. From 1930, after Beach had relinquished the rights to Ulysses, Joyce became very close with Paul Léon, another expatriate living in Paris. Léon became Joyce’s business advisor and close friend and helped him publish his final book Finnegans Wake in 1939.

In 1940, when Joyce fled to the south of France ahead of the Nazi invasion, Léon returned to his apartment in Paris to salvage their belongings and put them into safekeeping for the duration of the war. It is thanks to Léon’s efforts that many of Joyce’s personal possessions and manuscripts still survive.

James Joyce died on 13 January 1941 at the age of 58 in Schwesterhaus vom Roten Kreuz in Zurich where he and his family had been given asylum. He is buried in Fluntern Cemetery, Zurich.

Nora with her children