James Joyce (1882-1941)

Major Works: Dubliners (1914), A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916), Ulysses (1922), Finnegan's Wake (1939).


From Norton, (7th ed., p. 2004): In A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, "Stephen worked out a theory of art which considers that art moves from the lyrical form--which is the simplest, the personal expression of an instant of emotion--through the narrative form--no longer purely personal--to the dramatic--the highest and most perfect form, where 'the artist, like the God of creation, remains within or behind or beyond or above his handiwork, invisible, refined out of existence, indifferent, paring his fingernails."  Here Joyce states the fundamental principle of most twentieth -century fiction: the disappearance of the author from the text.

On Dubliners
Written mostly by 1905, not published till 1914-15 (waiting for "daring" enough publisher).

Said Joyce, on the theme of paralysis central to all stories in Dubliners: "My intention was to write a chapter of the moral history of my country and I chose Dublin for the scene because that city seemed to me the centre of paralysis.  I have tried to present it to the indifferent public under four of its aspects: childhood, adolescence, maturity and public life.  The stories are arranged in this order.  I have written it for the most part in a style of scrupulous meanness and with the conviction that he is a very bold man who dares to alter in the presentment, still more to deform, whatever he has seen and heard."

From the opening story in Dubliners, "The Sisters": "Every night as I gazed up at the window I said softly to myself the word paralysis.  It had always sounded strangely in my ears, like the word gnomon in the Euclid and the word simony in the Catechism.  But now it sounded to me like the name of some maleficent and sinful being.  It filled me with fear, and yet I longed to be nearer to it and to look upon its deadly work."

Joyce's typical strategy in short fiction was to convey a crucial moment of illumination or realization, which after the divine Illumination in Epiphany he called "epiphany": (from Stephen Hero): "By an epiphany he meant a sudden spiritual manifestation, whether in the vulgarity of speech or of gesture or in a memorable phase of the mind itself.  He believed that it was for the man of letters to record these epiphanies with extreme care, seeing that they themselves are the most delicate and evanescent of moments."  In Dubliners these epiphanies usually present the moment of realization of "paralysis" or "entrapment."

Dublin "trapped" Joyce all his life: though he spent the years of most of his writing career far from Dublin, this city figured prominently in all his work, and in some ways it figures as the central subject of his fiction.

On Ulysses
This complex "comic" novel is difficult, to the point that in forms the entire syllabus for semester-long courses in both graduate and undergraduate study--for some this novel has been the primary object of lifelong scholarly study.  In a nutshell, it explores a single day in the lives of two relatively "average" people, Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus (protagonist of Portrait of the Artist).  Joyce intended each chapter in his novel to have rough correspondence with Homer's Odyssey, and each chapter is written in strikingly different narrative technique, some of them ranging to the bizarre.  The effect of the whole is an ingenious attempt to convey the "real" experience of getting inside someone's head more thoroughly than has been done in literature before or since.  Through the various angles of attack and the various strategies of narrative presentation, Joyce effectively creates the "whole person" of Leopold Bloom on this one day in time: his past, his present, his future, all his current thoughts and much of what resides in his subconscious, the sensory experiences as he wanders about Dublin--Joyce strives to show it all.

"Lestrygonians," the 8th chapter in the novel, corresponds to the scene of the cannibalistic "Lestrygonians" in Book 10 of Homer's Odyssey.  The time of day is from 1:00-2:00, and the "scene," according to Joyce is "The Lunch."

The technique of the chapter is relatively straightforward stream of consciousness, and the choppy grammar and the train of Bloom's experiences and associations have the effect of making the reader directly and immediately privy to the thought processes of Leopold Bloom as they occur.

In addition to his immediate responses to the things he sees in his walk and the people he sees and speaks with, a number of themes appear to recur, suggesting that they are Bloom's foremost concerns during this hour, including most notably: