Writer Profile: James Joyce



Dates: b. 1882; d. 1941

Literary Movement: Modernism

Famous Works: Ulysses, Dubliners, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Finnegans Wake


Profile: James Joyce is one of the most influential contributors to the modernist avant-garde—both within Ireland and abroad. Regarded as one of the most important authors of the 20th century, Joyce was born into a steadily declining middle-class family. His father’s alcoholism and unpredictable finances catalyzed a tumultuous early home life; James, however, excelled greatly in school, eventually moving away to attend University College Dublin to study English, French, and Italian. It was here where he first became active in theatrical and literary circles; in 1900, his laudatory review of Henrik Ibsen’s When We Dead Awaken was published in The Fortnightly Review.

Shortly after graduating from college, Joyce emigrated to continental Europe, living in Paris, Trieste, and Zurich. This was a crucial moment in James’ life; a brilliant but young mind, he became familiar with modernism, cubism, and Cabaret Voltaire—Zurich’s Dadaist movement. Though he spent much of his adult life abroad, most of Joyce’s stories are set in Dublin.

His first publishing venture, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, failed dramatically. In its original form, the text was an essay-story and meditation on aesthetics. After its rejection by the modernist magazine, Dana, he added significant revisions, turning the story into a novel called Stephen Hero. Growing frustrated, Joyce abandoned the project. Years later, while living in Trieste, he completely rewrote the story as it exists in its current iteration. The publication of Dubliners, a collection of fifteen short stories, Ulysses, a serialized novel reimagining Homer’s Odyssey, and Finnegans Wake, a nearly-impenetrable, abstruse experimental novel, followed.


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