The literary works of Irish writer James Joyce are perhaps the most studied, argued and admired of all modern classics. Joyce, who was born near Dublin in 1882, was the eldest son in an impoverished, middle-class family. Educated by Jesuits at Clongowes Wood College, Belvedere College in Dublin, and University College, he majored in philosophy and literature. He exiled himself from Ireland in 1904 and moved to Trieste where he taught English at the Berlitz School from 1905 to 1915.
His love of language was instrumental in his experimental writing that used mythology, literature, and history to create an innovative language using symbols and various narrative forms. Joyce’s intellectualism and creativity has been compared to that of Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud, whose contributions to mankind are historical.
The American poet, Ezra Pound, championed Joyce and aided him financially through his many periods of poverty. The Dubliners, first published in 1914, was followed in 1916 by A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Though the latter gained Joyce notice in literary circles, it didn’t do well commercially. His only play, Exiles, was published in 1918.
Ulysses, completed in 1922, was first published in France and is considered his first major work. The book was banned in both Great Britain and the United States because parts were construed as obscene, and it wasn’t published in the United States until 1933 after years of litigation. His second major work, Finnegan’s Wake, was published in 1939.
Ulysses is considered one of the most important novels of the twentieth century. It employs the use of stream of consciousness, a writing technique that uses the running commentary in one’s mind. Ulysses has generated an abundance of academic criticism and scholarship. The book is almost incomprehensible to many, and even Joyce’s friends urged him to write an explanation of the book. His response was, “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 ensuring one’s immortality.”
Eventually, Joyce did explain that Ulysses was based on Homer’s Odyssey. Ulysses takes place all in one day, June 16, 1904, a date Joyce chose because it was the day he and his wife, Nora, had their first date. This date was chosen by James Joyce aficionados for Bloomsday, an annual worldwide celebration of Joyce’s body of literary work. Bloomsday is named after Leopold Bloom, one of the main characters in Ulysses who took his daylong journey through Dublin with Stephen Dedalus.
The writing of James Joyce continues to intrigue scholars and students alike. Professor Michael Seidel of Columbia Interactive believes it is necessary to know the various kinds of narrative Joyce uses in Ulysses in order to understand the novel. It also helps to understand the central themes of Joyce’s work – the life stages from youth through maturity and how each stage affects one’s identity. An Adventure with Words: James Joyce’s Ulysses
Today there are university classes devoted to Joyce’s work and literary journals full of criticisms, articles and research. Centers, associations, societies, museums, collections, tourist locations, and Bloomsday Festivals exist all over the world in honor of the literary genius of James Joyce.