Born in Dublin, educated at Clongowes College, County Kildare, and Belvedere
College, Dublin, he graduated in modern languages from University College
Dublin in 1902.
Dissatisfied with the provinciality of Irish life, Joyce went to Paris in 1902,
using the great libraries there to read widely in world literature. He returned
to Dublin in 1903, due to his mother's death. The following year, a chance
meeting in the street led to his lifelong attachment to Nora Barnacle, whom he
married in 1931.
With Nora, he moved to Zurich, and found work teaching English to the citizens
of Trieste, in 1905. He worked hard at developing his writing, focusing from
the beginning on the streets and people of his native Dublin. Difficulties with
Irish publishers due to references to the British Royal Family caused Joyce to
withdraw the Dubliners and have it published in London. His first novel, a
fictionalized autobiography, began life as Stephen Hero, but was eventually
reworked and published as Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, where the role
of the youthful Joyce is played by one Stephen Dedalus.
Joyce had to leave Trieste, which lay within the Austro-Hungarian Empire, on
the outbreak of WWI, and he returned to Zurich, where he worked on his next
novel, Ulysses, supported by funding aquired for him by Ezra Pound and
W.B.Yeats. Like the Portrait, this long experimental novel first appeared in
serial form, but this time the journal in question, The Little Review of New
York, was prosecuted for publishing obscene matter. Publication in book form
came at last in Paris, where Joyce and Nora had settled, together with their
two children, Lucia and Giorgio. Copies of the book were seized by the British
Customs, and those which reached the U.S. were burned by the postal authorities.
Joyce immediately began work on his next, even more radically innovative novel.
Twelve installments of it appeared under the name Work in Progress between 1928
and 1937. The final years of work on this book, eventually revealed under the
title Finnegans Wake, were very difficult for Joyce, as lifelong trouble with
his eyes brought him close to total blindness, and his daughter Lucia was
diagnosed as schizophrenic. The outbreak of WWII forced the family to move once
more to Switzerland, where Joyce succumbed following surgery for a duodenal
While Joyce's poetry and his one play, Exiles, were conventional in their form,
his career in fiction was marked throughout by a radical rethinking and
reworking of the form. The early lyrical 'epiphanies' of Dubliners gather into
longer more substantial narratives in the Portrait and Ulysses, to the extent
that Joyce could boast that were Dublin to be destroyed, it could be rebuilt,
brick by brick, from the pages of Ulysses. About half-way through that long
story of a day in the lives of Stephen Dedalus and a middle-aged Jewish
salesman called Leopold Bloom, Joyce appears to lose interest in the realist
novel he has been writing, and begins to construct quite another,
unprecedented, type of narrative. This reworking goes deeper and further in the
Wake, where language itself is remade as the matrix from which all stories and
all characters emerge.
Though all of Joyce's writing is distinguished by an extreme attunement to the
beauty and subtlety of language, it is perhaps the humour and sympathetic
humanity of his work which have drawn so many readers to it throughout the
century. Joyce claimed that comedy was a superior form to tragedy, and his
greatest books show why.